Yesterday I had the great pleasure of hosting our business leader’s forum. Being the first online forum there was no lunch and no informal networking before and after.

We had a good spread of delegates in attendance representing manufacturing, education, professional services, service industries, media and more.

However, despite the virtual setting we had a lively discussion and a chance to chew the fat over current hot topics including the phased return to work, holiday pay and the furlough scheme, and the effect of the pandemic on exporting and international trade.

It was another example of how we have adapted to the situation that Coronavirus- Covid 19 has put is in and shows how we have swiftly moved into a brave new world of work.

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP Chairman Alun Rogers said, in his Chamber webinar this week: “Work is now a thing that we do, not a place that we go to.”

Whilst this is to some extent true, there are many businesses who are currently facing up to the challenge of re-opening offices and factories with new risk assessed layouts, PPE, and different patterns of work.

We are a hosting a very useful webinar at 10.00am tomorrow entitled ‘Manufacturing restart – a workplace guide from Michelin’

Michelin factory manager Francois Levert, production manager Alan Murdock and factory personnel manager Rob Hewitt will talk about physical adjustments to the offices and factory, new hygiene regime and PPE and the effect on shift patterns and working groups. Rob will also talk about communication with employees prior to re-opening, to reassure employees and make sure they are ready to return.

The webinar will also cover the need for education in new protocols before returning to the workshops.

I would recommend the webinar to anyone re-opening premises or looking to do so soon. You can book here: https://bit.ly/36jDb2f

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

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week promoted by the Mental Health Foundation, with the theme being kindness.

I totally agree with the Mental Health Foundation that mental health is everyone’s business as it can affect anyone at any time.

The pandemic has made us all more aware of those people around us who perhaps need a little more support and kindness, be they family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and of course the army of essential workers who have worked tirelessly to keep our lives as normal as possible.

Following the 2008 credit crunch it was that the most vulnerable in society who experienced the severest consequences of austerity, with devastating effects on their mental and physical health. However, this time so far at least, it seems different, as if we are all in it together and we can only come through it by making sure no one gets left behind or goes without help and support.

One of the real positives to take from the pandemic and lockdown is the way in which the whole Staffordshire business community slipped seamlessly into support mode from day one.

The Government’s response to ease financial anxiety was swift with the Jobs Retention Scheme, self-employed grants, and a raft of loan options.

At the same time business was swift to react with manufacturers switching production to making vital medical and PPE equipment. Many businesses and organisations also moved to aid charities and to distribute food to the vulnerable.

I have been really heartened how many businesses and self-employed workers are taking it upon themselves to help each other out through social media groups and virtual networking. Acting inclusively to make sure everyone is keeping their narrative going and is ready to do business post-lockdown.

Similarly, at the Chamber we moved our entire operation online in a matter of days offering daily support in the form of daily webinars, additional mentoring, helpline support and advice on finance, employment law, marketing, exporting, skills, etc., as well as offering online networking and sector forums.

This new consideration and kindness and sense of looking out for each other, as well as ourselves, could transform our places of work and communities, tipping the balance in favour of good mental health for all.

If you would like to speak to us about any issues related to this blog please contact us at info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

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

Who knows what the true impact of Coronavirus – Covid-19 and the lockdown has had on our economy? To paraphrase Winston Churchill from 1942, we are not sure if this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.

What we can do at every stage of the journey is measure the impact of the pandemic and use this information to influence government policy. Never have the Government needed the guidance of the business community more than they do now. They are asking for our opinion and guidance daily as they tread the tricky path to recovery. Knowing that to ignore our advice, and get big decisions wrong, could do long lasting damage to our fragile economy.

This is one of the most important times for businesses across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to complete our Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), as it will give an insight in to the economic impact the Coronavirus and lockdown have had on local businesses.

 

The information you provide will have help to shape and influence current policy thinking as the data is shared with the British Chambers of Commerce, Government departments including HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office as well as the Bank of England, to assess the health of the UK economy.

 

We would keen to hear from firms of all shapes and sizes (starts ups, sole traders, SMEs, medium sized and large corporations) as it will help create an accurate picture of the current business landscape. Whether you are a seasoned director or relatively new to your company, if you can spare just a few minutes to fill in the survey it would be really appreciated.

 

We understand your time is precious, even more so now, so thank you to all those who complete the survey.

 

The link to the survey is – https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ZFQ9YR9

 

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

Although there is a long way to go in the current pandemic and lockdown situation, last week started to see the easing of restrictions with more and more businesses and services re-opening.

I personally feel there is confusion surrounding government advice, for example in encouraging those who can return to work to do so whilst advising against all but essential travel.

Today we are seeing crowd-control measures being put in at some stations, preventing passengers from boarding a train or entering a platform if there are already too many people. Measures such as booking time slots for travelling by train are also being considered – and its best to book online.

A lot of the potential risk of infection on trains and buses depends on how crowded they are and how far away you can keep from other people. This applies both on the vehicles and at stops and stations and will vary in different parts of the country and on different routes.

Ventilation also plays an important role as fresh air can help droplets containing the virus dissipate faster, so being able to open a window can be an advantage.
Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales small droplets packed with the virus into the air. These droplets can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or after touching a contaminated object.

If you can’t walk, cycle or drive to their destination, then you are advised to travel at off-peak times; take a less busy route and reduce the number of changes; wait for other passengers to get off before boarding; keep two metres away from people where possible and wash your hands as soon as possible after completing the journey.

Big issues already and we still have millions of employees furloughed and only a fraction of business open.

Do you have concerns around travel to work on public transport or other issues around the return to work? Then please let us know by emailing info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

You can also 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

It is sad, but a sign of the times that JCB today announced that up to 950 jobs are at risk of redundancy at its UK plants after demand for its machines fell by half because of the COVID-19 crisis.

JCB has said the decision to restructure JCB’s business had been extremely tough but that the company “had no choice but to take difficult decisions to adapt to this new economic reality”.

I’ve spent most of Friday morning reacting to this, not only in interviews but talking to Chamber management about what we can do to not only help JCB employees facing redundancy, but also others who will inevitably face the same fate in the coming months.

We are working closely with the DWP, Jobcentre Plus and Staffordshire County Council to help people back employment or other options such as self-employment, training, or study to upskill.

The Chamber also offers a comprehensive start-up programme to help people into self-employment.

This week, results from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Coronavirus Impact Tracker, a national barometer of business sentiment, reveals that businesses are ready for a gradual reopening of the economy but will need continued, adaptable government support during a phased return to work.

The results were taken from responses between 5th and 8th May, prior to the Prime Minister announcing an easing of lockdown measures to allow a gradual phased return to work.

It covers readiness to start back to work, the job retention scheme and the Bounce Back Loans scheme and shows that most businesses can implement social distancing and make provisions for flexible and home working where applicable.

Whilst the Bounce Back Loans Scheme has made an encouraging start many smaller cash-strapped firms are unwilling or unable to take on more debt. Chambers will be urging Government to further expand existing grant schemes to ensure as many businesses as possible get access to the support they need.

We are in no doubt that the job retention scheme and the furloughing of employees has been successful in its aim to protect livelihoods and its extension is a huge help and relief for business.

Therefore, the Chambers are urging the government to continue to listen to business and evolve the scheme in line with what is happening on the ground. Further phased support may yet be needed for firms who are unable to operate for an extended period or those who face reduced capacity or demand due to ongoing restrictions.

You can have your say by contributing to the BCC Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker: https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/page/bcc-coronavirus-business-impact-tracker

For all other enquiries you can email info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk 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

Quest, the Chambers partner in HR and legal services, have put together a template Covid-19 risk assessment and management guide for offices.

By using the step-by-step guide and completing the assessment you will have everything in place to ensure the safety of your employees, customers and suppliers.

The risk assessment is not designed to provide a complex ‘paper chase exercise.’ It is designed for you to make a simplified assessment of workplace activities to help you decide on the best methods of controlling the significant risks presented to your workforce and/or your business. By following the simple steps in the guide, you will be able to formulate your risk assessment.

It covers all the essentials including cleaning, hygiene measures, social distancing, PPE and Covid-19 testing and symptoms. Colour coding in red, yellow and green highlights the severity of risk and helps you to prioritise.

The management guide and risk assessment are available to all members as via the Quest portal. You will need your username and password to access the guides.  Visit https://www.questcover.com/chamber-index

If you need a reminder of your username and password, contact: membership@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

At the Chambers, we are looking at how we can reopen the office and find out if our members want us to do more face to face meetings – and its tricky. We all need to feel safe – and I have a duty of care to make sure that my team are safe, well supported, and happy to return. And this is what we are finding from all employers as they need to get health and safety right.

With this in mind, Quest, the Chambers’ partner in HR, H&S, tax and legal services, have put together a template Covid-19 risk assessment and management guide for offices. By using the step-by-step guide and completing the assessment you will have everything in place to ensure the safety of your employees, customers, and suppliers.

It covers all the essentials including cleaning, hygiene measures, social distancing, PPE and Covid-19 testing and symptoms. Colour coding in red, yellow and green highlights the severity of risk and helps you to prioritise.

It is designed for you to make a simplified assessment of workplace activities to help you decide on the best methods of controlling the significant risks presented to your workforce, your customers and your business. By following the simple steps in the guide, you will be able to formulate your risk assessment which needs to be shown to staff and displayed to anyone coming to visit your premises. And its free to all Chambers’ members so check out the website for details (see below for details).

Risk management is going to be a significant skill we need to all brush up on so look out for webinars on this soon. And talking of which……

Many businesses are already returning to work and have spent hours thinking about this, so we will be holding a series of webinars and interviews with businesses who have spent time on this and have lessons from which we can learn. We are hoping that Michelin, Alton Towers and some smaller manufacturing and hospitality businesses will take part over the next week. All webinars are available after broadcast in our excellent webinar library.

Whether or not you are a Chambers member, you can use the services of Joe Gill on all HR issues.

Joe is employed through the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Business Growth Hub to provide expertise an all human resource matters to any business in Staffordshire. Joe can be contacted at: joseph.gill@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

The management guide and risk assessment are available to all members as via the Quest portal. You will need your username and password to access the guides.  Visit https://www.questcover.com/chamber-index

If you need a reminder of your username and password, contact: membership@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For all other enquiries you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002. We also have a weekday daily Twitter hour from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

I am feeling very optimistic today and this is because I have two positive examples of how the Chamber network is having a real influence on government policy.

I was delighted to hear yesterday that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has once again listened to what business leaders have been calling for and has extended the Job Retention Scheme through to October.

This decision has come as a huge relief and a great help to millions of businesses across the UK.

The extension of the scheme and planned changes will help businesses bring people back to work through the introduction of a part-time furlough scheme. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) will engage with the Treasury and HMRC on the detail to ensure companies have the flexibility they need to reopen safely.

The Chambers are acutely aware that the Job Retention Scheme must evolve as consequences of the pandemic evolve. Further support may be required for companies who are unable to operate for an extended period, or those who face reduced capacity or demand due to ongoing restrictions, such as tourism and hospitality businesses.

Another positive note is the government guarantee to support provision of Trade Credit Insurance (TCI).  This is another issue we have discussed with members and subsequently raised with the BCC, using members’ words to give them evidence on this issue and drafting the letter for them to use.

The guarantee will be delivered through a temporary reinsurance agreement with insurers currently operating in the market and will cover trading by domestic and exporting firms and the intent is for the agreement are to be in place with insurers by the end of the month.

It will ensure a vital lifeline remains available during and after the crisis, helping to maintain supply chains and trade. Lasting provisionally until the end of the year, it will be followed by a review of the TCI market to ensure it can continue to support businesses in future. Full details at https://bit.ly/2Z0gpe6

I am sure you will agree that these are two positive examples of the government really listening to the concerns of the business communities, particularly Chambers of Commerce.

If there are any issues or concerns you would like us to raise at the highest level, then please let us know by emailing info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

You can also 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

Leading law firm Freeths LLP Stoke, has signed up to be a Patron of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, whose purpose is to increase the prosperity of the people and businesses of Staffordshire by helping businesses to be ethical and effective.

Freeths LLP are a top 50, full service commercial law firm with 13 offices spread across the UK.The Stoke office works with national and international businesses and household names, but they are proud to count many of the region’s biggest firms and institutions amongst their clients.

Peter Gavin, Managing Partner at Freeths Stoke said: “We are delighted to become a patron of Staffordshire Chambers and sit at the heart of the Staffordshire business community. The Chamber team has already been an invaluable partner to us over the last 10 years and we are looking forward to connecting with, supporting and helping to grow the Staffordshire business community”.

Sara Williams, Chief Executive at Staffordshire Chambers said: ““Staffordshire Chambers is absolutely thrilled that Freeths LLP have chosen to become a Patron of the Chambers. We have worked closely with Freeths for a number of years and have always valued their contribution to the business community of Staffordshire and beyond.

I am delighted that they have chosen to take their involvement with us to the level of a strategic partnership and I am so excited that we will be working with them on a number of initiatives to promote Staffordshire and to drive forward the economy in a time of great stress.

The leadership of the business community that our Patrons give is amazing and Staffordshire Chambers is incredibly proud to be associated with such a preeminent and leading law firm as Freeths”

 

 

The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy and workplace guidance was outlined yesterday and I was fortunate to be able to talk about this and businesses concerns on Midlands Today and Radio Stoke.

The guidelines are a significant step forward for businesses who will now need to digest the detail as it signals big changes in the way that many businesses operate. Many firms will now need time to plan for a cautious and safe return to work.

Some of my colleagues in other chambers were involved in doing a late night reality check on the documents which have been produced in consultation with industry. There are separate guidelines for factories, plants and warehouses, offices, shops, vehicles, restaurants offering takeaways and many others….but still some gaps.

But alongside the guidance, businesses urgently need clarity on the future of government support schemes which need to be adapted to help those businesses who need to remain closed for an extended period or who face reduced capacity or demand. We need a tapering of the JRS and we are expecting Chancellor Rishi Sunak  to reveal the future of this scheme later today. He has already indicated that the scheme, currently with six million people having 80 percent of their wages paid by the government, is not sustainable at its current rate – which none of us would expect!

However, with Prime Minister indicating that he was not expecting “a sudden flood” of people returning to work, I am hopeful that the extension of the scheme will be mindful of those workers who won’t be able to make a speedy return to work.

Staffordshire Chambers are keen to hear what support you need as we all return to workplaces and what issues you are facing – and what is working well as people return. Please send any comments or thoughts  to info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk.

Another element about the relaxation that everyone is concerned about is transport. Some news just in from London Northwestern Railway. They will be issuing a press release this afternoon which urges those passengers who are making essential journeys to check the timetable before travelling and in line with government advice to wear face coverings while travelling and to buy their tickets in advance online, if possible.

The timetable includes the reinstatement of services through Stoke-on-Trent which were temporarily halted last month. There is a summary of the services from 18 May onwards and the new timetables online at www.lnr.uk/coronavirus from this afternoon.

You can view the Government’s guide to working safely here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19

If you want to talk to anyone about issues in your business,  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