Over two-fifths (43%) of businesses have had employees absent from work for more than four weeks due to ill health in the last two years, according to new research by the British Chambers of Commerce and Unum.

The overriding impacts of staff absences are operational (88%) and on staff morale (76%) according to the results of the survey of over 1,000 businesses of all sizes and across all sectors. The business-to-consumer sector, which includes retail, catering, and hotels, was more likely to report impacts with 93% of firms reporting operational impacts and 85% affecting staff morale.

Respondents also reported financial (44%) and reputational (36%) impacts from staff absences.

Most businesses recognise the importance of supporting employee health and wellbeing, with 62% offering benefits such as access to wellbeing support, private medical insurance, occupational support services and healthy lifestyle benefits such as gym membership and cycle to work schemes.

The survey found that 41% of businesses believe that providing financial protection benefits, such as income protection insurance and critical illness cover, could or does help them to attract and retain employees. This rises to 52% for larger companies with more than 50 employees.

The results reflect the economic impacts of ill health in the workplace and the actions businesses are taking to promote and maximise staff wellbeing. The government is currently consulting on proposals to prevent health-related job loss, which will require businesses to take a more proactive role.

Businesses want staff to maintain good health and help them to return to work after a period of sickness. However, the process can be difficult and expensive for employers to manage. Employers would benefit from financial support and clearer guidance to help them invest in services that can support them to prevent and manage sickness absence.

Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“People are the most important asset of any business and a healthy and happy workforce lends itself to increased morale and productivity. Many firms already take proactive steps to support the physical and mental wellbeing of staff and, when they have the capacity and resources, will offer a range of information, services and benefits.

“Maintaining employees’ health and resilience is always the best option, but when people are absent though ill health it is in everyone’s best interests that they are supported back into work as quickly as possible. But managing sickness absenteeism can be difficult and expensive for businesses, especially smaller firms who don’t have access to specialist in-house HR services.

“Employers need access to good quality, affordable services to help them understand how to support their people in the best way, together with clear, up-to-date information and guidance on everyone’s rights and responsibilities. The BCC is calling for any additional statutory payment to be reimbursed or off-set in some way, to reflect the extent to which firms are already struggling with the cumulative cost of employment.”

Peter O’Donnell, Chief Executive Officer, Unum UK, said:

“Sickness absence has a major impact on businesses of all sizes and across all sectors and it’s vital that employers prioritise the health and wellbeing of their workforce.

“Coping with illness can be very hard for employees and their families and good employers want to both support their people as much as possible and manage the negative impact on their business.

“With the financial assistance and rehabilitation support they provide, GIP products are invaluable during a period of illness, but equally access to early clinical help whenever it’s needed is also very helpful and reassuring for both employers and employees.

“After reviewing some of the biggest problems for SMEs and their people, we found fast access to key medical services would bring very tangible benefits. As a result we recently launched help@hand to provide employees and their families with access to remote GPs, second opinions, physiotherapy and mental health support via an easy to use app. Not only can fast access to these services bring peace of mind to employees, early intervention can help reduce the risk of long-term sickness absence and lessen the operational and financial impact on companies.”

Bartec Engineering services have had a significant boost to their business after recently receiving valuable funding from the Michelin Development Fund.

Specialising in mechanical and electrical installation, Barry and Chris Hallam have clocked up over 70 years of combined experience between them. Boasting clients across a multitude of sectors including municipal water and waste companies, the food and beverage sector, construction and industrial sectors, Bartec are highly regarded within their industry.

The loan from the Michelin Development Fund has assisted Bartec to move into new premises and in turn has given the team the resource to secure larger and more prestigious contracts. Impressive new sub-contractor projects have included water recovery and treatment projects for Heathrow Airport Ltd, Thames Water, Southern Water and Severn Trent Water.

In addition, to enable the team to service the contracts, the workshop area has more than doubled and Bartec have also taken on a second unit adjacent to their existing premises to accommodate extra site and project staff.

Commenting on the funding, Barry and Chris Hallam said, “Michelin funding has been a welcome addition to our overall expansion plans, The Michelin team have a genuine understanding of the requirements of local small business we thank them for their continued support.”

To find out more about the services offered by Bartec Engineering, visit www.bartecuk.com

For more information and to find out if you could be eligible for the Michelin Development loan, please visit https://michelindevelopment.co.uk/

Research published yesterday by the British Chambers of Commerce found that in a survey of over 1,500 companies across the UK – nearly a quarter of firms (24%) say that in the event of a ‘no deal’ exit on 31st October they would revise investment plans down, while just 4% would revise up. 71% of respondents did not state that they would revise investment plans. Larger businesses surveyed (firms with more than 50 employees) were more likely to report that they will revise investment (33%) and recruitment (31%) plans downwards in a ‘no deal’ scenario. 5% of surveyed businesses reported they would revise investment and recruitment upwards, respectively.  Additionally, nearly one in five firms surveyed (18%) said they planned to move some or all of their business overseas in a no-deal scenario, signalling the possibility of a significant movement of operations by some firms away from the UK.

This news may be disconcerting for some businesses, but with less than 50 days to go before 31 October our aim is to help you to carry on trading successfully whatever the final outcome.

We’re hosting a number of Brexit workshops across the region to help businesses to learn and upskill their workforces to trade successfully across borders and how to get “Brexit” ready. We’re also hosting a number of training sessions which focus on specific areas of international trade. Click here for our list of workshops and training sessions.

Our dedicated Brexit advice website ‘bresilience.com’ provides companies with information, resources and a detailed checklist to help businesses to understand the issues surrounding international trade after Brexit. It’s also a resource containing the latest news and details on how we can help you plan your international business needs post-Brexit, at both the operational and boardroom levels.

If your business employs EU nationals and you’d like HR advice on how a no-deal Brexit will affect employment contracts you can also contact the Chamber to speak to our Growth Hub HR advisor.

For any other queries on Brexit, please contact the Chamber’s International Trade Team on 01782 202222.

The government has also devised a useful checklist for you to complete to check that your business is Brexit ready. Click here for the checklist.

Do you want to make business better in your local area?

Nominations are now open for dynamic, influential and forward thinking business people to join the Chambers’ Council and/or two Local Area Boards (Stafford and Staffordshire Moorlands). Council and Local Area Board Members represent their peers and are advocates for the Chambers and the private sector.  They are elected by the Chambers’ membership. Together with the Chambers, they have the power to increase the prosperity of Staffordshire and the local community by forging outstanding connections and lobbying local authorities and the Government for a better business environment.

Council and Local Area Board members are expected to attend up to 6 meetings per year.  Meetings usually last for around two hours and aim to discuss a range of business issues affecting Staffordshire. The meetings include a guest speaker on a topic relevant to the local area. This provides a great opportunity to increase local knowledge and to influence the local business landscape.

If you are employed by a business that is a member of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce you are eligible for nomination. All nominees must be supported by two proposers.  The proposer’s business must ideally be from the same locale as the nominee and a Chambers member. For example, if a nominee wishes to be nominated to join the Staffordshire Moorlands Local Area Board, the proposer’s business must also be located in the Staffordshire Moorlands. For more information, please see the proposer’s form:

Click here to view Nomination form

Click here to view Proposer form

Click here to view current Council Members


10 September 2019 – Nominations open

09 October 2019 – Nominations close

14 October 2019 – If an election is needed, voting opens via Staffordshire Chambers’ website

22 October 2019 – Voting closes

24 October 2019 – Scrutiny committee meets to confirm votes

25 October 2019 – Candidates informed

Candidates will be ratified at the following Council and Local Area Board Annual General Meetings:

14 November 2019 – Staffordshire Moorlands Local Area Board AGM

18 November 2019 – Stafford Local Area Board AGM

27 November 2019 – Staffordshire Chambers AGM

UK Export Finance (UKEF), the Government’s Export Credit Agency, works very closely with the Department For International Trade with a main aim to boost exports for the UK.  Anne Lockett is one of 24 regionally based export finance managers who try to ensure that no viable export contract fails due to lack of finance or insurance. Anne covers Staffordshire, Shropshire and Black Country and explains below how UKEF may be able to offer support to your business.

The best part of my job is engaging with many local businesses in Staffordshire  (either by phone or a visit),  understanding your  financial challenges and helping you to find a solution. The best part for your business is that the advisory element is completely impartial and free of charge.  Ultimately, my primary aim is to ensure that you do not turn an export contract away due to lack of finance or because you fear you might not get paid – I want to help you grow your exports and help you become a more successful international business.

The challenges that businesses face in raising finance to support export activities are many and varied.  It might be that you have won a new, larger than normal contract, or that you have received an influx of orders and you will need more finance to fulfil them all.  You may have negotiated an advance payment for which your buyer requires an advance payment guarantee or performance guarantee.  When exporting, the trade cycle is often elongated whilst you wait for the goods to be shipped across the world before payment is received and this can put a strain on the working capital of your  business.  Part of my role is to help you raise the finance, either by working with your bank or by helping you find another funder.  This can significantly shorten your search to find a solution.

You may be dealing with a new customer in a new overseas market that you are not familiar with and you require some certainty about getting paid.  Again, I can suggest ways to mitigate the  risk of not getting paid  which could include directing you to a credit insurance broker or helping you apply for an export insurance policy offered by the Government.

If you would like to know more or arrange a consultation, please contact me at anne.lockett@ukexportfinance.gov.uk  I am happy to talk to any size of  business in any sector.

Apprenticeship Levy Transfer

Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce currently have a member business, from the ceramic sector, who is an Apprenticeship Levy Payer.

This business is interested in identifying SME’s across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, who would like to benefit from an Apprenticeship Levy Transfer. Currently, Levy Payers can support the cost of apprenticeships in other organisations by transferring a percentage of their unspent apprenticeship funds to other employers.

From April 2019, the rate available to transfer, increased to 25% of the annual value of funds entering the apprenticeship service account. These funds can be transferred to any employer, including smaller employers in their supply chain.

Transferred funds will be used to pay for the training and assessment cost of the apprenticeships agreed with the receiving employer.

If you would like to be considered or would like to find out more about apprenticeship levy transfer, then please contact tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

First Trenitalia has won the contract to run rail services on the West Coast Main Line from December 2019.

Virgin Trains, the current operator of the rail line, was barred from bidding to keep the route over a pensions contributions dispute. First Trenitalia said it would run 56 refurbished Pendolino trains and replace its diesel-powered Voyager fleet with something more environmentally friendly.

The consortium will also design and develop High Speed 2 (HS2) as a “shadow operator” and run HS2 from March 2026 until 2031 along with the reshaped West Coast rail services. Chamber members can learn more about this news at our Transport Forum taking place on the 12th September.

Stafford businesses and commuters will be pleased to learn that construction of the new Stafford Western Access Route, SWAR for short, is underway.

While most of the construction work is not due to be completed until 2021, the new route will enable future development sites to be unlocked, improve traffic flow within the town centre and at the train station and create an improved public realm for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

The road project will link the A34 Foregate Street at Madford Retail Park to the A518 Newport Road at Castlefields Junction – helping to improve traffic flow in Gaol Square, Station Road, Chell Road, Doxey Road, Newport Road (east of Kingsway) and the A34 Foregate Street (south of the scheme).

The Staffordshire Chambers’ looks forward to seeing diggers on the ground and will work with all key partners to reduce impacts on business and commuting. Members can find out more information by attending the Chambers’ Transport Forum on the 12th September (see website for booking details) and by visiting the Staffordshire County Council’s information page at https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Highways/roadworks/stafford/westernaccess/proposedstaffordwesternbypass.aspx

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are looking to produce 12 case studies (approx. 1 a month) for our European Regional Development Funded, Let’s Do Mentoring Programme.

The Let’s Do Mentoring Programme provides a non-judgmental mentoring support service based on a business’s specific situation. Our mentors sign up to the programme because they have a wish to share their extensive skills and knowledge to give something back to the people and to the area, they live in.

The primary role of a mentor is to provide support and guidance to business leaders. In a mentoring situation, the mentor provides the conduit for the transference of skills and knowledge.

The programme is aimed at SMEs based in Staffordshire, who are business to business. It has currently supported over 420 businesses to create jobs, grow their profit and turnover or make a real difference to the local area.

Each case study will need to showcase the success that the mentee business has had, as a result of the mentoring they have received through the Programme. It will need to touch upon both the qualitative and quantitative impact of the mentoring. Each case study will need to tell and engaging story and include quotes and images from the business owner/manager and the mentor who supported them.

We are also interested in new and interesting ways case studies can be created and shared with the wider public, as well as traditional methods and we would welcome any proposals to consider this.

Proposals will need to highlight how an organisation would approach creating a case study, how they would be produced (formats) and what the total cost would be per case study.  No budget is currently set a side so we would welcome proposals with a range of costed models. If you can provide any examples of previous case studies, that would be ideal.

The deadline is 12th September 2019.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact ann.steele@staffordshirechambers.co.uk


The news that the government plans to review the delivery of HS2 Phase 2a with the decision on “whether and how we proceed” with delivery, comes at a potentially high cost to Staffordshire businesses.

For far too long businesses across the UK have had to cope with heavily congested Victorian-era railways – with passengers and freight traffic vying for priority. Businesses count the cost of this in delayed journeys, overcrowded trains, uncertain deliveries and unreliable services.

Cancelling HS2 now would cost thousands of jobs, directly impact the supply chain and cause the rescinding of existing contracts. HS2 remains a divisive subject across many communities in Staffordshire, however the business community has been vociferous in its calls for greater connectivity, increased capacity for freight, fairer rail fares and improved services from our rail infrastructure for a number of years, HS2 is set to redress those business-critical connectivity issues.

Commenting on the government’s announcement of an independent review of HS2 by Douglas Oakerveee, Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said:
“We know that as a country, Britain has been divided for a number of years, whether that is over Brexit or HS2 and while the economic headlines and soundbites present a buoyant economy, we know that the reality is that they mask the large scale inequalities in wealth, salary and opportunities across our cities and regions.

“HS2 is designed to redress some of those inequalities, bringing with it, greater connectivity, increased capacity and increased reliability. HS2 will connect employees to employers, businesses to new markets and commuters to new employment land, presenting places such as Stoke-on-Trent as a place to do business outside of the South-east. Through increased passenger capacity, HS2 also has the ability to unlock increased freight capacity on the West Coast Main Line, removing the need for goods to be transported via road and ease congestion.

“Staffordshire Chambers will continue to lobby for the delivery of a full HS2 service to Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. We firmly believe that all businesses in Staffordshire should benefit from HS2 not just those in close proximity to a station. Phase 2a must not be cancelled and government must go full steam ahead in connecting the core cities.”

Notes to editors:
The Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce belongs to a powerful network of 53 Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK, representing thousands of businesses of all sizes and within all sectors within Staffordshire. For more information, contact Matthew Lowe – Policy Manager – 01782 202 222