Amidst all the gloom and harsh realities of dealing with the pandemic, it is a real joy to announce that two of our members have won the esteemed Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

Churchill China, manufacturer of high-quality tableware has been honoured in the international trade category whilst Stafford-based additives business Addmaster UK, has won its third Queen’s Award, this time in the innovation category.

The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are for outstanding achievement by UK businesses and are undoubtably the most prestigious kitemark a business can display.

This morning I had an online meeting with the sponsors of the 2020 Staffordshire Business Awards. We were talking about plans for the awards which will move from the planned July date to November, to tie in with our annual Business Festival.

We will extend the assessment period for nominees from the last 12 months to 18 months. Judges will 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.

In the past the Staffordshire Business Awards have been a great platform for winners such as Synectics Solutions and Woolcool who both went on to win Queen’s Awards for Enterprise.

There was more good news today with the Chancellor’s announcement of a Future Fund, supporting start-ups by delivering an initial commitment of £250M of new funding which will be unlocked by private investment on a match funded basis.

The Future Fund scheme will issue convertible loans between £125,000 to £5 million to innovative companies which are facing financing difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak and it will open in May.

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

Its great news that the Governments Job Retention Scheme portal opened today, and I am aware that there were 67,000 claims in the first half hour, and, although there are some issues being reported, it all seems to be working.

Of more concern now are the businesses who seem to be falling between the cracks for support.

There is still concern that smaller and mid-sized firms, where many company directors pay themselves reasonable dividends, taking only limited salaries via PAYE, will be left without income as dividend payments are not eligible for the government’s pay support scheme. Other directors can only apply for 80 per cent of the small proportion of their income they receive through their salary and are barred from doing much of their work if they do so.

We are also urging the Government to extend guarantees to CBILS lenders from 80 per cent to 100 per cent for the smaller end of the loans –  allowing banks to approve the loans more quickly, in order speed up the delivery of financial assistance to cash strapped firms.

These are just some of the issues that we, in cooperation with all our colleagues in the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) network, are lobbying for daily. Because of the fast-moving nature of the measures to deal with the pandemic, the headline schemes often lack detail, so we see it as our job to point out where there is injustice, and urge the Government, through the BCC to address these issues urgently.

As always, I would urge you to voice your views on these and any other issues so we can represent your concerns at the highest level.

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

On Wednesday, HMRC updated its guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The most notable change in this guidance is that the qualifying date for employees to have been on the employer’s PAYE payroll (in order to be eligible to be furloughed) has been changed from 28 February 2020 to 19 March 2020.

As a reminder the scheme is for those employers who cannot maintain their current workforce because operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19). You can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and pension contributions (up to the level of the minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contribution) on that subsidised furlough pay.

This is a temporary scheme in place for 3 months starting from 1 March 2020 and employers can use this scheme anytime during this period. There is a minimum of three weeks for a member of staff to be furloughed.

This is a significant change as it now means individuals who started working for a new employer up to this date can be furloughed, providing they meet the other qualifying criteria:

  • you must have created, and started, a PAYE payroll scheme on or before 19 March 2020​
  • and enrolled for PAYE online
  • and you must also have a UK bank account.

This means an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 19 March 2020.

Any entity with a UK payroll can apply, including businesses, charities, recruitment agencies and public authorities but can only furlough staff if they are not paid for by public funding.

The Job Retention Scheme portal is due to open on Monday 20 April. Government guidelines on claiming through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are available at: https://bit.ly/3bcep5G

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

We recently launched our Twitter hour under the hashtag #staffschamberchat and we’re delighted that this has been a positive anchor point for local businesses to network and swap stories throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. On the success of this, from next week we will be enhancing the hour with a different daily theme. We will have Chamber experts on hand each day to answer relevant queries which you may have in their field. The schedule for next week is:

  • Monday 20th April – Laura Hodgkiss, Events and Training Team Leader
  • Tuesday 21st April – Allison Tomlinson, Export Documentation Officer
  • Wednesday 22nd April – Joseph Gill, HR Advisor
  • Thursday 23rd April – Tom Nadin, Mentoring Growth Project Manager
  • Friday 24th April – Declan Riddell, Stafford Chamber Manager & Membership Team

So if you have any burning questions around these topics, then please get involved and join the staff on Twitter each day from 11am – 12pm under the hashtag #staffschamberchat on @StaffsChambers

Since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown began over three weeks ago I have been having a daily briefing with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and my fellow Chamber CEOs from around the UK.

We feed in the issues our members have reported to us so that the BCC in turn can voice these concerns in their daily meetings with Government ministers.
By far the key issues are:

1. Government must extend Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Coronavirus Impact Tracker shows 66% of firms have furloughed staff in anticipation of the scheme going live next week. Government must confirm that the scheme will be extended beyond the end of May 2020 to ensure businesses are able to continue to retain staff as the economic impact of coronavirus deepens.

2. Some firms are still falling through the gaps of existing support
We need to see a business rates holiday for all mid-sized firms, an expansion of income protection support for company directors in ltd firms and an expansion of the cash grant scheme for those eligible for rural rate relief to all small businesses. These measures will ensure cash flow support reaches as many businesses as possible.

3. Support for micro-businesses and the self-employed
Support for this sector has been less clear despite its huge contribution to the economy. Whilst the government has taken steps to address this, we are mindful that there will be real concerns around gaps in support and we would urge you to keep us updated with your issues so we can keep up the pressure on the Government.

4. Firms need clarity on government’s plan for business post lockdown.
Government needs to set out its plan for how it will restart the country post lockdown so business can prepare for a return to work. This must include guidance on how to stay safe at work and clarity on the fiscal support that will remain in place to support jobs and cashflow.

If you would like to voice your concern on any issue affecting your business, then please get in touch via the contact details below.

I would also like to flag up our webinar programme and our daily Coronavirus Toolkit updated daily with all the information and contacts you need to ensure business continuity. You can access both at www.staffordshirechambers.co.uk

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

The British Business Bank’s (BBB) has announced that it has approved new lenders – the Co-operative Bank, Cynergy Bank, OakNorth Bank and Starling Bank, Arkle Finance, Close Brothers, Secure Trust Bank and Coutts – for accreditation under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)

However, despite swift and unprecedented support from the government, many firms continue to face a cliff-edge scenario with only around two per cent of companies receiving the loans to date.

Cashflow remains a particularly urgent concern for many businesses. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Coronavirus Impact Tracker data suggests just over a third of firms have only three months cash in reserve or less.

Whilst we at the Chambers welcome news that there are additional lenders able to provide much-needed loans at this challenging time, extra capacity must now translate into cash getting to the frontline more quickly to prevent jobs and livelihoods from being lost.

Please be assured that through the BCC, we are lobbying the Government tirelessly to make this point and urge them to speed up the payment process.

The Government has also provided further clarification on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, including details businesses will need in order to make a claim. The portal for claims goes live on 20 April. https://bit.ly/3bcep5G

HMRC have produced a recorded webinar: https://bit.ly/2XOvnTZ which provides guidance on the Scheme including information and advice on:

  • furloughed workers
  • scheme eligibility
  • how to calculate a claim and more

On a day-to-day basis Staffordshire Chambers are active with our webinars and networking to keep businesses connected and motivated during the lockdown. We host our first virtual Screen Networking session today which we will be repeating on a regular basis. Check our website home page for details.

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

With so much happening around the Coronavirus pandemic it’s difficult to even think about, let alone do anything around, planning for the post-Brexit transition period deadline at the end of the year.
However, as far as we know it will happen and it is worth devoting some time now to your own Brexit planning.
In order to help companies think about how their operations could be impacted, The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have created a Business Brexit Checklist, outlining key areas of operations where firms should assess what could change.
We are also working closely with Chambers overseas to highlight new opportunities and develop new markets for post Covid-19 and post-Brexit, and we will be running lots of webinars in the coming months as this work develops.
You can view the BCC checklist at https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/page/brexit-hub or contact your Chamber for advice and guidance on any issue.
I know that it can appear like ‘death by survey’ now with the Government, the Chamber and other bodies wanting to gauge how business is faring through the pandemic. Filling in surveys can seem like another task on top of everything else, but I would urge you to help wherever you can in completing surveys, as the data will help to formulate Government policy and give a picture of how we can advance quickly as we emerge from the lockdown. The BCC Covid-19 Business Impact Tracker is sobering reading, but it needs you to respond so that we can get an accurate indication of how business is doing. You can contribute to the Tracker at: www.britishchambers.co.uk
Finally, a great initiative from Royal Crown Derby who are launching their Make a Mug, Make a Difference competition for children to design a mug to celebrate the NHS. The competition is being endorsed by the V&A, who will host the winners at the Museum in Kensington.
The mugs will sell at £30 with all profits going to families facing unprecedented hardship. There are design categories for under12s and 12-18-year-olds. Competition details are on the Royal Crown Derby Facebook page: https://bit.ly/2RBTUrs
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

Its only just over two weeks since the PM announced the need for a lockdown to restrict the spread of the Coronavirus and limit the impact on the NHS.

The speed at which organisations have responded in setting up contingencies and strategies to cope with the new situation has been nothing short of miraculous.

Staffordshire County Council have had to react with speed to the sudden drop in staff available to help with vulnerable residents in the county who need personal care in their homes.

Their iCare scheme needs more paid and volunteer carers to help the thousands of vulnerable residents in Staffordshire who rely on personal care in their homes, and this demand will only increase as the Covid-19 pandemic continues across the country.

Depending on each individual’s needs, this could include tasks such as:

· Helping them out of bed

· Washing or showering and dressing them

· Brushing their teeth and hair

· Preparing meals

· Helping them to the toilet

They are appealing to businesses to talk to their staff about iCare and, importantly asking employers to relax the restrictions on furloughed staff being able to apply for another job so that they can join the iCare team. The guidance does say it has to be allowed under their existing employment contract. We would encourage you to waive any provision at this time that may be included in your employees’ contracts of employment prohibiting them from taking a second job.

Furlough is not, as supported by recent government guidance, a reason to restrict people’s ability to work on the iCare scheme, either as a volunteer or through paid employment at this time.

Government has clarified its guidance on the furlough position and employees can start a new job when on furlough. The guidance does say it has to be allowed under their existing employment contract.

The more people we can ensure receive care, the more we can keep them out of hospital and ease the pressure on the NHS.

Further details of iCare can be found at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/icare

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

CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Sara Williams, is writing regularly about the impact of the coronavirus on businesses and what support is available.

Today, I’m really pleased to say that my blog is about the amazing response that the business community in Staffordshire has given to the call out from Royal Stoke University Hospital for PPE and supplies. We emailed the appeal out and posted across our social media channels yesterday morning and were overwhelmed by the response, from businesses contacting us to offer support, to people sharing the story.

Within less than a day, over 60 businesses got in touch with us offering their help, from free warehousing of supplies and transport of equipment to the PPE itself. Jody Fox, who works in the Membership team at the Chambers as an Account Manager, is working hard coordinating all of this information and has a list of the offers and businesses involved.

This brilliant response shows the great businesses that are here to support the NHS and I want to thank you all. We as a Chambers will be recognising these businesses through our awards and hopefully a special event when this is over.

One of the key things that has come out of this crisis is the enormous respect for everyone in the NHS and the work they do. We are proud that we can show this through the business community coming together and answering the plea for help in order to keep the brave NHS workers safer.

I also want to share Staffordshire County Council’s iCare Initiative with you. They are calling out for people to join them to deliver vital social care services to vulnerable people through the crisis and are really in need of more help. At a time when many businesses are furloughing staff, I’d very much encourage you to support your furloughed workers in taking up this crucial role if they are able. You can find out more about iCare at https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Coronavirus/I-can-help/I-Care.aspx

I would like to wish everyone a safe and socially distanced happy Easter. Those people still working in the businesses and factories across Staffordshire will hopefully be having a well-deserved rest. For the front line staff who are working to keep us safe – from the hospital workers at every level, for the police and the emergency services keeping us all going – we hope you have a quiet weekend working on our behalf.

 

CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Sara Williams, is writing regularly about the impact of the coronavirus on businesses and what support is available.

Supply of key business information is more important than ever as we adapt and react to the current crisis on an almost hourly basis.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) are working around the clock to lobby for speedier response to the financial needs of businesses as we approach paydays, the majority of which fall on the 15th or 25th of the month.

BCC is also putting pressure on the banks to stay open over Easter as this is a time when businesses will need banking services and support – either through accessing new overdrafts, loans or CBILS. We are very conscious that normal rules for Bank Holidays cannot apply in these circumstances

Results from the initial BCC Covid-19 Business Impact Tracker, paints a concerning picture showing that 21 per cent of respondents reported less than a month’s worth of cash in reserve, while 40 per cent reported only one to three months’ worth of cash in reserve. You can contribute to the Tracker at www.britishchambers.co.uk

I have a daily online briefing with the BCC who in turn have daily briefings with Government ministers and a weekly briefing with the Governor of the Bank of England.

This means that if you let us know what issues are affecting your business, we have a direct line to the people making the big decisions affecting business.

There seems to be some confusion around travel to work. Presently, Government advice is that anyone who cannot work from home can travel to work. The police have now been advised that they should not ask for proof that drivers are on their way to or from work.

However, we do urge all business to make the maximum effort to allow employees to work from home wherever possible. For staff working at business premises we also urge employers to provide good quality PPE and have robust policies in place to ensure social distancing is observed.

We are hearing that more workplaces are investing in thermometers to test people, and face masks for reassurance of colleagues. However, there is the obvious caveat that these are also needed for the health and care sectors urgently too. If you have any surplus PPE equipment please let us know and we will direct it to the appropriate authority.

For all 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