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

Thousands of contact tracers are starting work today to track down people who have tested positive to Covid-19 who will be told to isolate under the government’s new much talked about test and trace scheme.

People who test positive to Covid-19 will receive a text, email, or call to ask who they have had contact with. Those contacts will then be told to isolate for a fortnight regardless of whether they are sick or not. Even those who have already had the virus will be asked to isolate.

The hope is that test and trace will speed up the lifting of lockdown restrictions opening the way for a more localised targeted approach to restrictions.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, in conjunction with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has been supportive of the introduction of test and trace for several weeks now. We know that an effective programme really matters to business as it will prevent another economically damaging lockdown, of the nature we are still enduring.

We see it as essential to boost to confidence of businesses, staff and consumers as the economic restart continues. We know that businesses are keen to play their part in the success of the programme and want to support their staff in following the guidance.

The contact tracing system will only work if everyone adheres to the rules and the likelihood is that employers will have to pay SSP to those needing to isolate, however, a coordinated approach to test and trace across the UK will be critical to ensuring the success of the programme and in enhancing business confidence.

We know that many of you concerned about how all of this will affect business and a crucial time when we are all returning to work. It is now important that the full details of what potential location-based actions or local lockdowns may look like in practice to support businesses’ contingency planning.

Rest assured that we will be working hard to get as much detail as we can, as quickly as we can to enable business to work through the phased return to work whilst supporting the contact tracing programme.

There is more information about test and trace on the gov.uk website:  https://bit.ly/2yE5Ylt

To get in touch about any issues around returning to work you can 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

On Monday 1st June, ten weeks to the day from the day we closed our offices on Festival Park to enter lockdown, some of us will be making the first tentative steps back to a new world of work.

Not all staff will be returning to the offices and no one is being asked to come in against their will or put under any undue pressure. Rather, it is a slow start to a way of working which will see a blend of office-based and online activity.

All through the lockdown I have had daily online meetings with the Chambers’ management team and fortnightly all staff meetings, including furloughed staff, so that everyone has had a chance to contribute to the decision-making process along the way.

We have undertaken a full risk assessment which will be published on our website later this week. It follows the government guidelines for returning to offices and coves vital areas such as social distancing measures, hygiene and PPE. In the short term the offices will only be open to staff. The Members’ Lounge will remain closed until further lifting of restrictions.

I envisage that all staff will be spending part of their working week at home for some months and we are doing everything we can to make sure that everyone has essential equipment to do this, such as a proper office chair, laptop supports and footrests. The last thing we want is staff suffering injury due to poor posture from home working.

One of the real positive outcomes from the lockdown has been the way in which members of the Chambers’ team have supported each other through this time. Lockdown has been a different experience for us all dealing with issues – some positive and others much less so – such as home schooling, caring for elderly relatives, self-isolation, loneliness, and illness.

Coming back to work in Commerce House is going to be challenging for us all in different ways and so to help everyone, we have re-established our wellbeing group headed by our HR specialist advisor, Joe Gill. It will enable us to share concerns, hints and tips and best practice.

All of this is new territory and we know we have a lot to learn. However, we are happy to share anything discussed here with all business as well as learning from you about what is working well in your organisation. And we are keen to learn from your experiences too.

To get in touch about any issues around returning to work you can 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

 

There was a welcome boost for the economy with the Prime Minister’s announcement that car showrooms and open markets will be allowed to open from Monday 1 June and other retail outlets should prepare for a 15 June opening date.

This will be a welcome boost for the economy and for general morale as we start to see a real move toward rebuilding our fragile economy.

It is a given that the retail experience will be changed for a long time to come. Car dealerships, for example, will look different with more space between vehicles, clear distancing markings and appropriate sanitation and PPE measures.

However, as a statement it will hopefully lift spirits and give act as a spur to business to focus on their own plans to reopen.

The Chambers, through the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), are asking the government and relevant agencies, particularly the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for clarity, support, and guidance on plans for a phased reopening of the retail sector.

We know that businesses will be taking a safe, proportionate, and risk-based approach to returning to work, in close consultation with staff. For many, this is an entirely new way of operating as businesses apply guidance to practical operational realities.

HSE and local authorities should support business as they seek to comply with the new rules and reserve new enforcement powers for the small minority of businesses who wilfully disobey or ignore obligations to their workers and customers.

HSE guidance to retailers can be found at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/retail/index.htm

If you have any concerns or questions around reopening and your obligations please let us know at: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For anything else 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

Like me, you were probably out at eight o’ clock last night, paying tribute to our wonderful NHS workers and all essential workers currently doing such an amazing job. A small token of thanks for a debt that is impossible to repay.

Yesterday, I received an email from Charles Bagot-Jewitt, the High Sheriff of Staffordshire. He wanted to make me aware of the the work also being done during the lockdown, by staff and residents at HM Prison Stafford.

Residents are enduring even more disruption to their lives, locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, and unable to have visitors. This has ensured that HM Prison Stafford remains Covid-19 free for staff and inmates.

Residents are fundraising for the NHS and the textiles workshop has been making scrubs for local institutions as part of the ‘lovescrubs’ initiative. The prison has also deliverd a number of food hampers, purchased by residents through their canteen, to the House of Bread foodbank in Stafford.

On behalf of the business community I would like to thank Ralph Lubkowski, Governor HM Prison Stafford, his staff and residents, and all the other prisons in Staffordshire, for all for the supportive work they are doing in helping with the fight against Covid-19 during lockdown.

Earlier this week my blog was about Mental Health Awareness Week and how kindness was so important at present.

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend this weekend, not that many of us will notice the difference. After all the stress of the past few weeks I think it’s a real opportunity to take a break, be kind to others and importantly, be kind to ourselves.I know my team at the Chamber have worked incredibly hard to help business through the pandemic thus far, and there is still a long way to go.

So this weekend, go for a walk, read a book, bake a cake, play some music, enjoy the weather and be kind to yourselves. I’ll be back on Tuesday!
For any business 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