Throughout the lockdown period, we have been working as hard as ever to get the voice of the Staffordshire business community heard by government in this time of crisis. As well as regular calls through the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), we have been producing a weekly briefing report for influencers on what we are finding on the ground.

We are now looking at the big issues such as guidance on the re-start of the economy, financial concerns and what will happen to the furlough scheme after the current deadline of 30 June.

Nothing can beat politicians hearing from businesses themselves and we are fortunate to have a group of MPs in Staffordshire who want to engage with their business community.

With this in mind, we have a brand-new initiative which is the Chambers’ Policy Hour (all online, naturally) with an opportunity to talk to MPs. The first one, at 2pm on Tuesday 5th May, is with the three Stoke-on-Trent MPs:

Jo Gideon, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central
Jonathan Gullis, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North
Jack Brereton, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South

The MPs will answer some pre-submitted questions followed by an open question forum from attendees on the day.

We already have a commitment from Karen Bradley, MP for the Moorlands, and senior local politicians and decision makers to take part – we are planning for a regular Tuesday afternoon slot!
I do hope that you will join us and please let me know of any questions you would like to put to the MPs in advance so that we can have a good discussion about what matters to you. We will be holding subsequent Policy hour events with other Staffordshire MPs and influencers and you will find details in our newsletters and on social media.

May I wish you all a restful and safe weekend and I look forward to hearing from many of you over the next few days and weeks as we all work to rebuild the Staffordshire economy.
Please pre-submit any questions for the MPs to Vickie Hardie: vickie.hardie@staffordshirechambers.co.uk no later than 12 noon on Monday 4 May.

For all enquiries, 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

The Staffordshire Business Awards, which showcase achievements and outstanding performance from the county’s best business, has been moved from July to a later date of 10 November 2020.

Sara Williams, CEO of the Chambers said: “We will extend the assessment period for nominees from the last 12 months to 18 months. In addition to the individual award criteria, judges will also be looking for resilience highlighted in the way in which businesses bounce back from the pandemic. In particular, how they have supported staff, customers and the community during this time and how their business has adapted to new market conditions created by the pandemic

“We are incredibly proud of our county’s business heritage and this year’s award ceremony will be particularly significant and poignant as we look back at what will have been the toughest year for business in living memory.”

Award Sponsors

Business of the Year and Overall Sponsors – HSBC UK Bank PLC
Overall Theme Sponsor – KPI Recruiting Ltd
International Trade Award – Department for International Trade
Entrepreneur of the Year – Staffordshire University
Science Technology & Innovation – University of Wolverhampton in Stafford
Sustainability & Environment – Keele University
Digital Transformation – Synectics Solutions
Manufacturer of the Year- Michelin Plc
Small Business of the Year – SBEN & Stoke & Staffordshire Growth Hub
Medium to Large Business of the Year – Dains
Young Employee/Apprentice of the Year – The Trentham Estate
Employer of the Year – Newcastle & Stafford Colleges Group
Professional Services Category – Finest

Further information from Laura Hodgkiss: laura.hodgkiss@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Like everyone else who has a company that can work from home, the Chambers hurriedly moved from a physical office to a virtual organisation in March. Our thoughts were on the immediate problems of making sure that staff were deployed with clear responsibilities and that the organisation was able to function and provide a relevant service to Staffordshire businesses.

We have certainly all learned a lot in the past few weeks, especially in terms of how we work as a team. I personally soon became acutely aware that the way in which I communicated to my team would need to reflect these circumstances.

For many working at home has presented tough challenges. Having, partners and children at home or having to suddenly take on the role of teacher or carer whilst working to tight daily deadlines is not something many of us had prepared for. Hopefully, the team know that I am here to support them and they in turn seem to be genuinely supporting each other.

We have a daily management meeting and a fortnightly staff meeting on Zoom which is open to the entire team, including furloughed staff. I hope that I am open and transparent and try to address all staff issues, sent to me as questions prior to the meeting, as not everyone feels comfortable with raising questions in the meeting and having these beforehand ensures anonymity.

It is obviously important to avoid futured absolutes or to raise false hopes and I try to be as open, transparent and realistic as I can. We do not know when the phased return to work will begin and neither can we know the full extent of the damage to the economy, and what knock on effects this will have on our individual business model.

It has been fantastic to see how people in the Chambers team have risen to the challenge. I am very proud of my team and I know that we will come out of this even stronger.

If you would like help and guidance with anything discussed here please get in touch by emailing info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For all enquiries, 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

I can not stress enough the importance of good governance as a basis for great management and the pandemic and subsequent lockdown will have laid bare any holes in a company’s governance. As we move to the next big challenge – the relaxation of restrictions, however it comes – businesses will be needing to plan what happens next and it is therefore a good time to fix those holes.

Good governance is not just about making decisions. It’s about having some challenge to how you think – as the owner, manager, decision maker – and getting a different view that makes us think about what we are doing and how we want our businesses to work in the future.

Having someone from outside your organisation who can help you to consider the risks and opportunities, your current and future operations, what is achievable and is there to challenge your own views will help you make better decisions. They will help your organisation to be consistent and responsive to employees, customers, shareholders, regulators – and to face new challenges.

The pandemic has shown many business people that they were not ready for any uncertainty (although obviously none of us expected anything on this scale) so now is the time to think  about how you might look at the future with better governance. We are all thinking about what comes next, yet we can end up in a rabbit hole of just thinking about the same things. Now is the time when you can find someone to give you the critique and wider picture to help your business survive.

So, get yourself a non-executive director, a mentor or talk more to your accountant or professional advisor. Any of these advisors should hold you accountable and focused on meeting your legal and statutory requirements whilst also helping you see the bigger picture.

As the effects of the pandemic moved swiftly and the lockdown was announced, those businesses with a robust decision-making methodology were able to change and adapt quickly, whilst communicating clearly to employees and customers.

Staffordshire Chambers run a great mentoring scheme with mentors who are running their own businesses, are extremely experienced and are great at challenging your assumptions.  We can help by matching you to an experienced mentor who has the skills and knowledge you need to start you on developing your governance.

Adhering to good corporate governance practices encourages managers to regularly review the firm’s strategy and performance and seek external opinions where necessary. Bringing in external expertise to aid strategic decision-making can add significant benefits. The Chambers’ mentoring programme can help here too.

Staffordshire Chambers is owned and managed by our members, so we have an elected Council, a Board of Directors and local area advisory boards. They all work really had to make sure that the executive team (including me) are challenged and supported to make better informed decisions to reflect what the business community of Staffordshire needs. If you would like to be involved, we will be asking for nominations from members in the next couple of months – or let me know now.

If you would like help with anything discussed here please get in touch by emailing info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For all enquiries, 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

Sara’s blog: The skills agenda

If we are looking for positives out of the current pandemic situation then I would say that there has never been a better time to take stock of your business and assess exactly what direction you want to take as we gradually move out of lockdown.

The lockdown has been a test for employers, employees and the self-employed.  We had hardly any time to prepare for a new way of working but from what I have witnessed, Staffordshire businesses have showed incredible innovation, agility and determination to adapt to brave new world.

Now there is a great opportunity to assess what skills are needed to capitalise on the upturn in business post Covid-19. It will be survival of the fittest i.e. those who have upskilled and grabbed new opportunities to capitalise on new opportunities.

No doubt you will have seen examples, as I have, of those employees who have really stepped up to the plate and shown qualities of leadership and adaptability not seen previously.

We all need to harness this energy and recognise the dedication of those staff and support them in developing their careers. The Chambers can help you do this through the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Skills Hub.

The Skills Hub is a multi-million pound European Social Funded project which offers a brokerage service to assess training needs, matches this to provision and then accesses funding grants of up to 48 per cent up to a maximum of £5000, toward the training.

To access the fund businesses, must complete a training needs analysis form with a member of the Skills Hub team. Through the needs analysis they will identify how a business can be improved through specialised training and then help to find and fund relevant courses. Businesses can apply for funding for any bespoke course that is not currently funded elsewhere.

This really is a fantastic opportunity to invest in, and upskill or re-skill, those employees who are going to drive your business forward.

For more information and to find out how you can benefit from the funding businesses should call the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Skills Hub on 0300 600 1066

For all other Chamber enquiries, you can call 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

I can just about remember a world pre-Covid-19 although time seems to have changed since we all started working form home. Sometimes I am not sure if it is Monday or June……. For the past five weeks the pandemic has taken over our lives as we have had to transition our businesses rapidly to deal with the crisis.

But there are other issues and one familiar shape is looming – namely Brexit.

It may be far from your mind as you deal with survival first but, like all good businesses, it is worth keeping an eye on the future and trying to plan for what it might bring. The team at Staffordshire Chambers is ready to answer your questions and offer guidance on any Brexit issues and to help you find new markets.

One of the great things about chambers is there is one in every town and city in the world and we are using these connections to get some great links and insights. Over the next few weeks and months  Staffordshire Chambers have organised webinars so you can meet your fellow Chamber members across the globe or find out more about trading with a tremendous variety of countries. You can be assured that we will be facilitating Brexit seminars and webinars in the coming months so keep an eye open for some amazing opportunities.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have produced a Brexit Checklist in order to help companies think about how they might be affected – it outlines key areas of operations where firms should assess what could change. The list is pretty comprehensive: workforce; cross-border trade; taxation/insurance; currency/intellectual property/ property/contracts; regulatory compliance/data-protection and EU funding and procurement. It is worth having a look at https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/page/brexit-hub

Currently, UK companies can send products to the EU without any barriers, as part of the Customs Union. However, once the UK leaves the EU on 31 December 2020, there may be significant changes to the process including increased paperwork and customs compliance obligations which UK firms must meet in order to continue to sell into EU markets. We have expertise on hand to help you through this new way of working and ensure that you have all the information and necessary guidance you need for a smooth transition.

And the brilliant team of international trade advisors based at the Chambers will be running the usual courses on subjects such as documentation, Incoterms, customs procedures, letters of credit and much more.

Full details are on the webpage: https://staffordshirechambers.co.uk/international-trade/

For all other Chamber enquiries, you can call 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

The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have launched an online survey for businesses to better understand the impact that coronavirus is having on the region’s business community.

Click here to take part in the COVID-19 Economic Impact Survey

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership Chairman, Alun Rogers, said:

“We are very keen to hear from our business base. It is critical that we know the challenges our businesses face, the support that will be needed and the opportunities that may be presented as we deal with the economic crisis this situation has created for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. Our Growth Hub continues to provide support for the immediate needs of our businesses and the intelligence provided helps us to plan for economic recovery.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader, Abi Brown, commented:

“We are encouraging businesses to complete this quick survey in order to obtain the best insight as to how they are being affected and to understand their needs and requirements. The data we collect through this survey will also be shared with the government in order to inform and support any further measures they may wish to take as we move forward to the economic recovery stage.”

Staffordshire County Council leader, Philip Atkins, stated:

“Support for our businesses has always been a priority for the county council and our partners. This of course is an incredibly difficult time for them. Their feedback is critical in helping us to direct our help and resources to ensure their long-term stability as we move from the response to Covid-19 through recovery to a renewal of our economy.”

CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Sara Williams, added:

“In these difficult times, it is really important that all parts of government and support bodies have the data that will help businesses now and as we recover. Companies and individuals will be asked increasingly for their time in filling in surveys – all are crucial to help us understand the impact and design help that will make a difference. I urge every business to help design the future by filing in this crucial survey.”

In 2018 there were 27 million trips to Staffordshire generating a staggering £1.34 billion plus another estimated £500 million in indirect spend.

The Staffordshire visitor economy supports over 32,000 jobs with around 24,000 full-time equivalent posts. That is 6.6 per cent of all employment in Staffordshire.

Sadly, all this has come to a stop due to the Coronavirus pandemic and its looking more likely that 2020 will be written off as far as the visitor economy is concerned.

It is not just the headline attractions such as Alton Towers, The Trentham Estate and the National Memorial Arboretum that generate all the income and visitors. It is the myriad of other attractions, museums, galleries, accommodation, countryside, shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants etc., as well as hundreds of events and festivals, that bring millions of visitors to our wonderful county each year.

We want every business in this sector to know that we are here to support with financial advice, mentoring, business planning, HR support, marketing advice and much more.

As a boost to this support we are hosting a webinar on Wednesday 29 April with three experts who have a wealth of experience in supporting tourism and leisure, retail, and heritage businesses. The webinar will highlight what steps you can take to prepare for the current restrictions to ease and for visitors and customers to return.

There are lots of things you can be doing in the downtime to improve your communications, such as updating your website, business planning, writing blogs and networking with fellow businesses owners to broaden your future offer. The webinar will offer tips on creating a positive story and making social media and video work for you. There are also ideas for limited trading now such as delivery services, vouchers etc. to keep your narrative alive.

You can register for the webinar here: https://bit.ly/2XUb6wi

For all other Chamber enquiries, you can call 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

Yesterday Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, announced that social distancing will need to be observed at least until the end of the calendar year.

This confirms what we at the Chambers expected, that whilst there will be a phased return to work, it certainly will not be business as usual for some time.

We would urge you to start thinking now about what type of PPE your business will need to ensure the safety of your staff and customers in order to make your work environment as safe as possible.

The Chambers will start to build up a database of PPE requirements from businesses in Staffordshire. With this information we can build up an action list for supplies and match this as much as possible to the local supply chain. We know that there are already a range of suppliers the county who distribute or produce PPE. There are also several innovative companies who have recently adapted their production lines to produce PPE.

We would welcome your thoughts on PPE requirements or any issues around PPE. Please email info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk with your information or enquiries.

We are currently consulting with our team at the Chambers to come up with a plan when we return to work. In addition to PPE we are looking at policies around social distancing. For example, we are no doubt going to have to switch desks and offices around to allow for distancing.

Home working and video conferencing have become the norm since the lockdown was announced and we will review utilising both to some extent as we phase in our return to work.
We will also be discussing how many people can safely attend meetings, and possibly limiting numbers on our training courses and seminars.

It all seems daunting at this stage but if we can share ideas, best-practice and eventually policies, we can make it easier to implement. We certainly will not mind sharing our ideas and will look at producing guidelines that business can follow.

For all Chamber enquiries you can call 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

Sara’s blog: Covid-19

Whatever the Coronavius pandemic has thrown at the Staffordshire business community the response has been swift, compassionate, and innovative.

There is not enough space here to list all those businesses and organisations that have rallied around to help the community and essential workers but here are some examples.

Port Vale FC has turned in to a community hub, providing meals for those in need in the community through charities, churches, and the local authority. Kitchens that might have prepared matchday or function meals are now turned over to preparing the meals with staff deployed to new roles.

Work is being coordinated by the Hubb Foundation, set up by owners Carol and Kevin Shanahan and supermarkets, local traders and companies including JCB, Totally Delicious, Blakemans and Wright’s Pies have all pitched in with large food donations.

JCB were incredibly quick to play their part in ending the shortage of ventilators in the UK following a direct appeal from the Prime Minister. They immediately got to work in converting part of their manufacuring facilities to production of steel housings for a brand-new design of ventilator from Dyson. Prototypes made in Uttoxeter have already been delivered to Dyson.

Also, well done to staff and students at Endon High school who have already produced over 500 plastic face shields on their 3D printers. The plastic was supplied by Crewe based Goodwin Plastic and much needed and potentially life-saving shields have already been delivered to care homes in North Staffordshire.

Finally, we are immensely proud that Keele based Cobra Biologics and Pharmaceutical Services are part of the consortium led by Jenner Institute, Oxford University developing the potential vaccine for Covid-19. The vaccine is being fast-tracked for clinical trials, starting at Oxford University on Thursday 23 April, with £20M backing of government funding.

As I said at the start, this is only a small sample of the fantastic work being done by the business community we are so proud to be a part of and represent. Please let us know what you or any business or organisation is doing help in the fight against Covid-19.

For all Chamber enquiries you can call 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