National restrictions continue to significantly affect businesses across the country.  While non-essential retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have had to temporarily close during lockdown, those businesses which are still operating will also have been heavily affected by the pandemic.   

As such, there is an enormous pressure on businesses’ financial situation.  They may be juggling reduced income whilst navigating new income streams such as various government support measures.  Businesses might be facing unexpected expenditure on PPE and the cost of making their operations Covid secure. 

It is extremely challenging to budget month to month; something which is especially true for smaller businesses, who may already be operating with limited cash flow. 

More than ever, the battle to keep control of company outgoings is crucial if they are to survive in this tough climate.  A straightforward place to start in this battle is a universal cost and key expense:  energy bills. 

While every business receives regular energy bills, the vast majority don’t track how – and where –they are using their gas and electricity.   

A proactive way of taking back control of this expense is by installing a smart meter, to show exactly how much energy is being used hour by hour.  It will show whether switching off appliances overnight will save a small fortune, the cost of keeping laptops and phones plugged in all the time, and even how much boiling a kettle costs. 

Another key benefit of smart meters is that businesses get billed for the exact energy they use.  Unless very regular meter updates are provided, bills generated without the input of smart meters are estimated, based on the usage from a previous period. If businesses have temporarily closed or furloughed some of their teams, this could be hugely damaging as they would be paying for energy they haven’t used yet, and might not use for several weeks, potentially making a big dent in their already fragile cash flow.  

A smart meter is a positive step in taking control of business outgoings and if your firm has 10 employees or less, your business could be eligible. 

To see whether smart metering can work for your business, and to find out if you are entitled to claim a free one, contact your energy supplier.  It could be one of the best calls you make this week. 

It’s been yet another momentous week for business as the Health Minister gave details of the restrictions we will be living under when the national lockdown ends on 2nd December and the Chancellor set out the details of his Spending Review on Wednesday.

It is now clear that the whole of Staffordshire will be moving into the tier three, allowing non-essential retail to reopen, whilst hospitality remains closed and households remain banned from mixing outdoors.

On a positive note, tier three areas will receive extra funding, yet to be announced, as well as more virus testing to help control infections as the government aims to get out of the toughest restrictions as fast as possible. To this end they will work with local authorities to get tests to where they are most needed and to get people to come forward.

As a chamber, and with the Growth Hub, we will be here to help you find out if you are eligible and how to access any available funding – as soon as the details are announced. As we know, sometimes we have schemes that are announced and they take ages to actually be delivered. This is something we have consistently put to government as a flaw in the support they have offered.

What we do not want is for the government to keep switching businesses on and off like a light bulb without expecting even more severe consequences. The Chambers, through the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), will be lobbying government for a plan that keeps Covid-secure businesses, and the economy, open throughout the winter and beyond until the positive effects of a vaccine programme begin to turn the pandemic around.

If you have any immediate concerns or views around the new tier system restrictions, please let us know so we can represent your views to government. You can email them to

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review, came at a critical time as business communities are fighting for survival and looking for clear guidance during the pandemic. We will be looking at all aspects of the Review in the next week or so and seeing how we feel it is going to impact Staffordshire businesses – and what needs to happen for the people of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to benefit from the announcements.

As part of the review the government has promised action on help for people to return to work to help limit long-term unemployment, and we will be playing our part in helping people to re-train and re-skill through the Kickstart Scheme for young people aged 18-25, and our brand new Start Scheme which will offer support and interest free loans to people looking to start a new business.

You can see the BCC’s reaction to the Spending Review in full here:

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:

Is your business Brexit-ready?

It is less than 50 days to go until Brexit, and currency markets may fluctuate as we near the December 31st deadline, affecting the amount of money you may receive when making an international payment, meaning it is more important than ever to plan ahead. For businesses in Staffordshire, it’s vitally important that you look to protect your businesses as we head into the new era of the UK as an independent nation.

How did we get here?

It is four years since the UK voted to leave the EU, but this year, the crunch year for a deal, Brexit was on the backburner for much of 2020 while the world dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with the transition deadline fast approaching, businesses and individuals need to get ready, and fast.

A crucial EU leaders’ summit in October didn’t yield a breakthrough, and the PM’s deadline for a Brexit agreement came and went by, barely causing a ripple in the markets. Johnson has told the UK to prepare for a no-deal, and while the government ‘walked away’ from negotiations, they ‘left the door ajar.’ After a few days, talks resumed and appeared to lift sterling after the renewed discussions.

How could this affect businesses and individuals?

If you export or import, buying or selling goods or services from companies based abroad, you are exposed to currency risk, in a nutshell. Factors such as economic growth, interest rates, politics, Covid-19 and Brexit can all play a big part in how much your money is worth. If you are an importer for example, a strong pound tends to be good news, but if you are an exporting business, a stronger sterling can make a product or service more expensive overseas, or it could reduce margins a business is able to take home. British sterling slumped to a 31-year low after the Brexit referendum result in 2016, therefore if the UK and the EU fail to make a deal before the end of 2020, currency markets could become more volatile and the value of your payment could differ.

Where you purchase supplies from for example, to how often you do business internationally, can all add to different points of risk. So the first action as a business looking to understand its risk exposure is to identify where the risk is coming from. It can be simple, such as looking into how you are quoted or invoiced. Some overseas companies may do this in their local currency, and add a margin to protect themselves from currency fluctuations, which in turn impacts your pricing and therefore your bottom line.

Highlighted particularly during the pandemic was the pressure on international supply chains, where some collapsed as lockdowns came into play. Businesses need to be looking at their supply chains, especially those within the EU because of Brexit, and how they may be affected by highs and lows between sterling and the euro.

Could you really afford to lose over £20,000?

An example of how currency fluctuations could impact a company is a manufacturer in the UK exporting goods to the EU. Let’s say the client exports an order worth €500,000, for delivery in 90 days’ time. The price today is €1.10, meaning a return in British sterling of £454,545. Now in 90 days’ time, if the GBP/EUR exchange has moved to €1.16, then the return is now only £431,034. In other words, an exporter could lose £23,510, through no fault of their own. For a client importing from the EU, spending €1,000,000 per annum, there is the potential for costs to vary from £833,333 to £952,380 when looking at market forecasts for 2021. This means costs could differ by as much as £119,047.

Protecting your payments from Brexit

Locking in exchange rates could help secure your costs, which in turn could protect margins and improve revenue. A forward contact* allows you to plan payments ahead with reassurance and certainty, ideal for paying invoices, and if you’re protecting profits or maintaining a budget. Market orders allow you to buy currency at a set exchange rate of your choosing, with the trade being processed if and when the rate is achieved.

If you’re unsure about your currency exposure, we also offer a free FX health assessment. Using historical transaction data from your business over a 3, 6 or 12 month period, our expert team will use the data to provide accurate information on the available exchange rate on the relevant currency for each payment.

Our team of dedicated dealers are on hand to support businesses with FX, global payment solutions and risk management during these turbulent times. Please get in touch via, or call Andy Medler on 07551 170665 or +44 (0) 203 823 0526 quoting ‘BCC Brexit’. Once set up as a customer, you can easily get a quote or even make a payment yourself online with our 24/7 secure online platform.

*May require a deposit and enables you to secure an exchange rate for up to two years.

Awards celebrate business resilience

The gala presentation of the 2020 Staffordshire Chambers Business Awards, originally scheduled for July, took place at a special online presentation event on Thursday night.

Just short of 1000 users clicked to watch the event live as the results were announced by live streaming from the New Vic Theatre, hosted by Chambers CEO Sara Williams with guest presenters, Ed James from Heart FM and Kate Beardmore from Synectics Solutions.

The 15 category winners were chosen from a total entry of 300 businesses ranging from an award for the young employee or apprentice of the year to the overall winner of the prestige title of Staffordshire Business of the Year.

Sara Williams said: “After the year we’ve all had we were determined that the award ceremony would go ahead to give everyone a shot of positivity and a chance to celebrate.

“It’s never easy to pick winners when entries are of such a high standard. This year our businesses have achieved success in so many ways, by adapting and innovating, supporting fellow businesses and importantly supporting the NHS, key workers and those in our community who took the full impact of the pandemic.

“I would like to personally thank the entrants, judges, sponsors and the Chambers team for making sure the show went ahead and that we were able to shine the spotlight on all that is great about the Staffordshire business community.”

Award Winners:

Staffordshire Business of the Year – Klarius Group of Companies – sponsored by HSBC

Digital Transformation – Infinity IT Solutions – sponsored by Synectics Solutions

Employee/Charity Employee of the Year – Charlotte May, Risual – in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Enterprise Partnership

Employer of the Year – Three-way tie between: The Hanley Economic Building Society, Mitten Clark and Strategi Solutions Group Limited – sponsored by Newcastle & Stafford College Group

Entrepreneur of the Year – Vikki Sylvester, Acacia Training – sponsored by Staffordshire University

International Trade Award – Radwell International – sponsored by Department for International Trade

Manufacturers Award – Hardy Signs – sponsored by Michelin

Medium/Large Business of the Year – Klarius – sponsored by Dains

Most Promising New Start Up – Visionary Individual Pathways – sponsored by Start Up

Partnership and Collaboration – The Staffordshire Gin Company – Sponsored by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce

Professional Services of the Year – Prosurv Consult – sponsored by Finest

Retail, Leisure, Culture and Tourism Award – The Slamwich Club – in partnership with Destination Staffordshire

Science, Technology, and Innovation – Aeon Engineering – sponsored by the University of Wolverhampton.

Small Business of the Year – The Staffordshire Gin Company – in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub

Sustainability and Environment Award – Laundry Efficiency – sponsored by Keele University

Young Employee/Apprentice of the Year – Luke Cassidy from Synectics Solutions – sponsored by Trentham Estate and Gardens

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:

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

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

Digital Transformation

WINNER: Infinity IT Solutions

Leek Town Football Club Ltd



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.


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



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:

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

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: and Leek’s brand new ‘high street online’ website:

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:

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

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: or for more information call Matt Hustwit on 01782 202222 or email

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:

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