This week is Armed Forces Week, a time as a nation to show our appreciation and support for the men and women who make up the armed forces community; from currently serving troops to service families, veterans, and cadets.

Events throughout the week lead up to Armed Forces Day this Saturday, 27th June.

To give an example of the unsung work our armed forces do, over the past three months the Royal Logistics Corps have been working to deliver a wide range of support and services during the pandemic. As well as their involvement in setting up the new Nightingale Hospitals across the UK, soldiers have also been involved in supporting regional testing sites, delivering food to the vulnerable and driving ambulances.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce have always had strong links with the armed forces, and we know that many local employers and employees play a vital role in their support of our reserve forces.

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 West Midlands Reserve Forces & Cadet Association (WMRFCA) as patrons and very pleased that our support has been recognised through our Silver Award and being a signatory to, the Armed Forces Covenant.

There are lots of activities taking place from today including three excellent events aimed at employers.

  • Armed Forces Covenant webinar, Tuesday 23rd June at 2pm (update on local Armed Forces response to Covid19) https://bit.ly/2Ni7tcR
  • Reserves Day event on Zoom, Wednesday 24th June at 2pm (for your employees interested in knowing more about reserve service) https://bit.ly/2AXi22r
  • Army Engagement Team broadcast, Thursday 25th June at 2.30pm (A multimedia presentation on our British Army) https://bit.ly/3fDTL06

Please share these with your staff and your external networks and if you are planning any social media or digital activity the hashtags are #ArmedForcesWeek and #SaluteOurForces and the twitter tag for WMRFCA is @WMRFCA.

Details of Armed Forces Week can be found at: https://www.armedforcesday.org.uk and

https://www.wmrfca.org/reserve-forces/armed-forces-week-2020/

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

A bit of a mixed bag to end the week!

I’d like to start the blog by saying that I could not be prouder at this moment of Staffordshire Chambers, of being an accredited  British Chamber of Commerce and all the incredible businesses who support us to carry out our work, and more importantly support each other and the local community.

On that note, the highest possible praise for Chambers of Commerce comes this morning in a letter from Her Majesty The Queen.

Queen Elizabeth, who is Patron of the British Chambers of Commerce, praises Chambers’ contribution to business communities during the Coronavirus pandemic and the work we are doing as more businesses across the UK are reopening and adjusting to a new normal.

The letter says: “ At a time of great difficulty for many, it is heart-warming to see civic response and generosity of so many businesses, small and large, to the challenges posed, whether supporting the health sector or vulnerable communities.”

The Queen goes on to recognise the contribution Chambers of Commerce and their members have made during the pandemic. “As Patron of the British Chambers of Commerce, it gives me great pride to see the contribution of you and your members are making to help firms, champion trade and rebuild communities.”

Moral support such as this is crucial as we look to work together to rebuild and renew our local economy.

You can read The Queens letter in full at: https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/news

After seeing the high streets reopen and the tremendous work that so many national chains and our brilliant independent retailers have done, it is encouraging that for the cities and towns in Staffordshire people are returning to spend locally.

It is a tribute to the businesses and the local authorities who have worked tirelessly to get the high streets open and to provide excellent support to ensure that customers and staff feel safe and comfortable as we move back to a more sociable way of living.

Businesses also need to be aware of the issues on the changes to the government’s support. Most people will know that the furlough scheme is changing and there are daily updates on easing of restrictions and their implications for business.

The other big issue is the HMRC VAT payment deferral period, bought in to alleviate financial pressure during the lockdown, ends on 30th June. You need to set-up direct debits now to allow enough time for HMRC to take payment (as well as submitting your VAT returns as normal, on time and pay the VAT in full on payments due after 30th June). And any deferments taken so far will need to be paid in full on or before 31st March 2021 if you are unable to pay the VAT due and may need time to pay. All information and advice on VAT deferral can be found at: https://bit.ly/3egy4mh

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

 

 

 

 

Staffordshire County Council are sending out a positive, proactive message to business through their five-year growth strategy, Staffordshire Means Back to Business.

The business recovery strategy, a blue-print to support the county economy in getting back on its feet following the Covid-19 crisis, includes an £870,000 investment in two enterprise centres in Siverdale and Cannock. This is on top of the £860,000 already committed by the county council to support the local economy to recover.

Like the UK, Staffordshire’s economy will suffer a negative impact because of Covid-19, however the strategy looks to build on the county’s established strengths seek new opportunities arising from the crisis.

Unfortunately, some businesses will not survive, however, previous recessions have led to a rise in new and successful companies formed with determination out of adversity.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce echoes the county council’s priority to support all businesses and offer bespoke guidance and backing to new companies to get through their critical early stages.

Key drivers of the strategy include; the use of external and local funding to assist in the immediate response; development of new programmes that will support the recovery, renewal and transformation of the local economy; ensuring that climate change is always at the heart of thinking and delivery; working with our to deliver the strategy, including accessing funding and lobbying for additional resource where necessary.

Priorities for the next five years are broken down to four phases:

Respond – support businesses and residents through the COVID-19 crisis.

Recover – create the conditions to support our businesses and residents to return to work as soon as possible.

Renew – continue to progress those priorities that will play an important role in achieving ambitions to develop the local economy beyond the current crisis.

Transform – utilise the opportunities presented by the current economic conditions by supporting the transformation of the local economy to be digital, clean and higher value.

The Chambers aims integral part of the delivery of the strategy, through our established support programmes for start-ups, Growth Hub funding support, mentoring, skills agenda, and networking.

We have helped hundreds of people start businesses. Our dedicated start-up advisers offer initial consultations to discuss a new business idea, followed by sessions to equip start-ups with all the basics to launch their business including financial forecasting and accounting, business planning, legal requirements, and marketing. If starting a new business is something you or your employees are thinking about you can contact Peter Ball at the Chambers: peter.ball@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

You can view Staffordshire Means Back to Business: https://bit.ly/2YaARrG

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

This Friday at 10am we have another in our series of online Policy Hour webinars with Amanda Milling, MP for Cannock Chase since May 2015.

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 Amanda 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.

Following the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in July 2019, Amanda was appointed Deputy Chief Whip. In February 2020 she was asked to serve in her current role alongside Ben Elliot as Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Amanda is a strong advocate for many local causes, organisations and charities including the Royal British Legion, Rotary clubs, and the Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children.

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/3fxVdkG

All pre-submitted questions need to be sent no later than 11am on Wednesday 18 June to Laura Hodgkiss: laura.hodgkiss@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Throughout the pandemic the Stoke and Staffordshire Growth Hub helpline, managed by the Chambers, has been exceptionally busy. From 20th march to 31st may the helpline, managed by Becky Parker, took over 5,500 calls helping businesses through the complexities of government Covid related financial support, grants, employment issues etc.

As well as running the helpline, Becky also sends out regular email updates containing vital business information on grants, funding, schemes to help redundant workers back into employment and much more. You can reach Becky on the helpline 0300 111 8002 or businessenquiries@stokestaffslep.org.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

Figures released today suggest that workers on payrolls declined by over 600,000 between March and May. At the same time, the number of people claiming benefits, including unemployed was up 126% to 2.8 million.

Sadly, it is inevitable that there will be more redundancies once wage support schemes, including the furlough scheme, end in October.

In a move to mitigate the effects of the job losses, businesses across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire are being offered help to support their employees at risk of redundancy.

The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP is working with partners to create a service for businesses and employees experiencing redundancies because of the coronavirus outbreak. It is being delivered by the National Careers Service West Midlands, which includes Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

The Chambers are backing the scheme which will operate a response triage service matching redundancy to redeployment in sectors experiencing growth such as health and care, food retail, wholesale, and distribution.

There will be free individual support, advice and careers information and guidance for employers and employees. We would encourage businesses and individuals who have been affected to contact the triage service as quickly as possible.

The support service will include skills analysis and career planning, CV development, job matching to current vacancies and help with online job searched and applications.

It will also help people to understand the local job market, coach them in interview techniques, offer digital skills assessments and help to find relevant coursers and training.

Businesses trying to urgently fill vacancies because of the pandemic can also access help to find new employees able to start immediately.

Anyone who has been made redundant or is at risk of redundancy is advised to call 0121 296 5550 or email  Ncswmenquiries@prospects.co.uk to book a telephone appointment.

Employers whose staff are at risk of redundancy or businesses looking to fill vacancies should call 07879 603635.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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