UK Export Finance (UKEF), the Government’s Export Credit Agency, works very closely with the Department For International Trade with a main aim to boost exports for the UK.  Anne Lockett is one of 24 regionally based export finance managers who try to ensure that no viable export contract fails due to lack of finance or insurance. Anne covers Staffordshire, Shropshire and Black Country and explains below how UKEF may be able to offer support to your business.

The best part of my job is engaging with many local businesses in Staffordshire  (either by phone or a visit),  understanding your  financial challenges and helping you to find a solution. The best part for your business is that the advisory element is completely impartial and free of charge.  Ultimately, my primary aim is to ensure that you do not turn an export contract away due to lack of finance or because you fear you might not get paid – I want to help you grow your exports and help you become a more successful international business.

The challenges that businesses face in raising finance to support export activities are many and varied.  It might be that you have won a new, larger than normal contract, or that you have received an influx of orders and you will need more finance to fulfil them all.  You may have negotiated an advance payment for which your buyer requires an advance payment guarantee or performance guarantee.  When exporting, the trade cycle is often elongated whilst you wait for the goods to be shipped across the world before payment is received and this can put a strain on the working capital of your  business.  Part of my role is to help you raise the finance, either by working with your bank or by helping you find another funder.  This can significantly shorten your search to find a solution.

You may be dealing with a new customer in a new overseas market that you are not familiar with and you require some certainty about getting paid.  Again, I can suggest ways to mitigate the  risk of not getting paid  which could include directing you to a credit insurance broker or helping you apply for an export insurance policy offered by the Government.

If you would like to know more or arrange a consultation, please contact me at anne.lockett@ukexportfinance.gov.uk  I am happy to talk to any size of  business in any sector.

Apprenticeship Levy Transfer

Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce currently have a member business, from the ceramic sector, who is an Apprenticeship Levy Payer.

This business is interested in identifying SME’s across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, who would like to benefit from an Apprenticeship Levy Transfer. Currently, Levy Payers can support the cost of apprenticeships in other organisations by transferring a percentage of their unspent apprenticeship funds to other employers.

From April 2019, the rate available to transfer, increased to 25% of the annual value of funds entering the apprenticeship service account. These funds can be transferred to any employer, including smaller employers in their supply chain.

Transferred funds will be used to pay for the training and assessment cost of the apprenticeships agreed with the receiving employer.

If you would like to be considered or would like to find out more about apprenticeship levy transfer, then please contact tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

First Trenitalia has won the contract to run rail services on the West Coast Main Line from December 2019.

Virgin Trains, the current operator of the rail line, was barred from bidding to keep the route over a pensions contributions dispute. First Trenitalia said it would run 56 refurbished Pendolino trains and replace its diesel-powered Voyager fleet with something more environmentally friendly.

The consortium will also design and develop High Speed 2 (HS2) as a “shadow operator” and run HS2 from March 2026 until 2031 along with the reshaped West Coast rail services. Chamber members can learn more about this news at our Transport Forum taking place on the 12th September.

Stafford businesses and commuters will be pleased to learn that construction of the new Stafford Western Access Route, SWAR for short, is underway.

While most of the construction work is not due to be completed until 2021, the new route will enable future development sites to be unlocked, improve traffic flow within the town centre and at the train station and create an improved public realm for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

The road project will link the A34 Foregate Street at Madford Retail Park to the A518 Newport Road at Castlefields Junction – helping to improve traffic flow in Gaol Square, Station Road, Chell Road, Doxey Road, Newport Road (east of Kingsway) and the A34 Foregate Street (south of the scheme).

The Staffordshire Chambers’ looks forward to seeing diggers on the ground and will work with all key partners to reduce impacts on business and commuting. Members can find out more information by attending the Chambers’ Transport Forum on the 12th September (see website for booking details) and by visiting the Staffordshire County Council’s information page at https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Highways/roadworks/stafford/westernaccess/proposedstaffordwesternbypass.aspx

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are looking to produce 12 case studies (approx. 1 a month) for our European Regional Development Funded, Let’s Do Mentoring Programme.

The Let’s Do Mentoring Programme provides a non-judgmental mentoring support service based on a business’s specific situation. Our mentors sign up to the programme because they have a wish to share their extensive skills and knowledge to give something back to the people and to the area, they live in.

The primary role of a mentor is to provide support and guidance to business leaders. In a mentoring situation, the mentor provides the conduit for the transference of skills and knowledge.

The programme is aimed at SMEs based in Staffordshire, who are business to business. It has currently supported over 420 businesses to create jobs, grow their profit and turnover or make a real difference to the local area.

Each case study will need to showcase the success that the mentee business has had, as a result of the mentoring they have received through the Programme. It will need to touch upon both the qualitative and quantitative impact of the mentoring. Each case study will need to tell and engaging story and include quotes and images from the business owner/manager and the mentor who supported them.

We are also interested in new and interesting ways case studies can be created and shared with the wider public, as well as traditional methods and we would welcome any proposals to consider this.

Proposals will need to highlight how an organisation would approach creating a case study, how they would be produced (formats) and what the total cost would be per case study.  No budget is currently set a side so we would welcome proposals with a range of costed models. If you can provide any examples of previous case studies, that would be ideal.

The deadline is 12th September 2019.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact ann.steele@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

 

The news that the government plans to review the delivery of HS2 Phase 2a with the decision on “whether and how we proceed” with delivery, comes at a potentially high cost to Staffordshire businesses.

For far too long businesses across the UK have had to cope with heavily congested Victorian-era railways – with passengers and freight traffic vying for priority. Businesses count the cost of this in delayed journeys, overcrowded trains, uncertain deliveries and unreliable services.

Cancelling HS2 now would cost thousands of jobs, directly impact the supply chain and cause the rescinding of existing contracts. HS2 remains a divisive subject across many communities in Staffordshire, however the business community has been vociferous in its calls for greater connectivity, increased capacity for freight, fairer rail fares and improved services from our rail infrastructure for a number of years, HS2 is set to redress those business-critical connectivity issues.

Commenting on the government’s announcement of an independent review of HS2 by Douglas Oakerveee, Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said:
“We know that as a country, Britain has been divided for a number of years, whether that is over Brexit or HS2 and while the economic headlines and soundbites present a buoyant economy, we know that the reality is that they mask the large scale inequalities in wealth, salary and opportunities across our cities and regions.

“HS2 is designed to redress some of those inequalities, bringing with it, greater connectivity, increased capacity and increased reliability. HS2 will connect employees to employers, businesses to new markets and commuters to new employment land, presenting places such as Stoke-on-Trent as a place to do business outside of the South-east. Through increased passenger capacity, HS2 also has the ability to unlock increased freight capacity on the West Coast Main Line, removing the need for goods to be transported via road and ease congestion.

“Staffordshire Chambers will continue to lobby for the delivery of a full HS2 service to Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. We firmly believe that all businesses in Staffordshire should benefit from HS2 not just those in close proximity to a station. Phase 2a must not be cancelled and government must go full steam ahead in connecting the core cities.”

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Notes to editors:
The Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce belongs to a powerful network of 53 Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK, representing thousands of businesses of all sizes and within all sectors within Staffordshire. For more information, contact Matthew Lowe – Policy Manager – 01782 202 222

Staffordshire’s summer employment figures remain encouraging, says economic growth leader

Staffordshire’s mid-summer out-of-work claimant count statistics show that the county is retaining a position of having near full employment.

Mark Winnington, Staffordshire County Council’s economic growth leader, said every effort is being made to ensure this continues with major development projects getting under way and a new round of skills programmes due to start next month.

The claimant count figure for Staffordshire is 1.9 per cent, which is lower than both regional (3.6 per cent) and national (2.7 per cent) figures.

Mark added: “It is always encouraging to see that we have low unemployment in Staffordshire and with new growth projects getting off the ground. We are also about to start the new academic year and we will have some first-class skills development programmes starting across the county.

“Working with the local enterprise partnership we coordinate the advanced manufacturing and engineering skills hub at colleges and learning centres across the county. The programmes enable people to develop skills which will help them into employment in our key industry sectors.

“Some of these jobs will be at locations like i54 South Staffordshire, where we have just started an extension to the site which will have an additional workforce of up to 1,700. Our focus remains to support the creation of better skilled, better paid jobs which can be taken on by a local people.”

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Opportunities for our Members

Take a look at the latest business and funding opportunities: 

EIS Industrial Fuel Switching programme

PHASE 3 of the BEIS Industrial Fuel Switching programme, which aims to stimulate investment in fuel switching processes and technologies, is open to expressions of interest until August 21. This phase offers £17.8m for implementation and demonstration, which can include detailed process modelling or engineering design. More information

LOANS for ‘game changing’ innovation projects are available to SMEs

InnovateUK is financing ‘late stage’ projects using any technology in any industry. Following the success of the Innovation Loans pilot in 2018, the programme is now extended to the end of 2020 with an additional £25m available. The loans should ‘support the transition from cutting-edge innovation to successful commercial realities’. Projects must focus on commercialisation, growth or scaling-up, and priority will be given to projects likely to improve productivity. The registration deadline is September 11. More information.

GRANTS of between £250,000 and £10m are available to fund ‘industrial digital technologies’
The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, ISCF, pot of up to £30m aims to transform the productivity and agility of UK manufacturing. Projects should include an element of cross-sector collaboration, and can be anywhere along the development phases, from feasibility to demonstrator stage. All projects must start on or before December 1, 2019, with a defined consortium agreement, agreed industry match funding and a project plan. Registration closes on August 28. More information

AMCASH, the Advanced Materials Characterisation and Simulation Hub, is offering free support

The hub, which is jointly funded by the University of Birmingham and ERDF, offers R&D and technical support to SMEs in the West Midlands. It focuses on supporting advanced materials and manufacturing using experimental and computer modelling and has supported over 140 SMEs so far. SMEs interested in accessing free high quality support from materials and manufacturing experts can contact: AMCASH Business Engagement on 0121 414 3436 AMCASH@contacts.bham.ac.uk

100% Match Funding Scheme

Transition Law, a law firm based in Cannock have announced a system of 100% match funding to assist businesses afford the costs of their GDPR compliance.

GDPR compliance is a statutory requirement for all businesses regardless of size. However, in some small businesses, cash-flow difficulties leaves them prioritising other matters, which exposes them to high levels of fines, Criminal Prosecution and adverse publicity by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), who publish the names and offence details of every organisation who is subject to their Enforcement Action.

In addition to the Match Funding assistance, once compliant every business is entitled to free access to the SHIELD program which confirms their status as a compliant business and allows them to use the accreditation to promote their business in their Marketing activity and when Tendering for work.

Robert Linford, Head of Practice at Transition Law said “GDPR compliance should be the first job for all small businesses, even starting a business which is not compliant is a Criminal Offence. The fines being issued are enough to close a small business down. Only last month a local firm was fined £90,000.

Our new Match Funding package means everyone can access Free Legal advice, receive professional assistance and once they are compliant, they can use the SHIELD programme make everybody aware of their compliant status.”

Full details of our End to End GDPR services, including Free Legal advice and the new Match Funding Scheme are available at www.transitionlaw.com/gdpr where any business owner can check their eligibility for the funding free of charge.

Aspire Housing has joined a national lobby, calling on the government to use £2bn in unclaimed financial assets to create a Community Wealth Fund.

The Newcastle-based housing association is among the first 100 organisations to join the Community Wealth Fund Alliance, campaigning for strategic, long-term funding to support the communities who need it the most.

The alliance is made up of public, private and voluntary sector organisations and initiatives that are campaigning for the creation of a new multi-billion pound Community Wealth Fund to support deprived communities. Sinéad Butters, Group Chief Executive of Aspire Housing, said: “We’re delighted to sign up and support the lobby to create a Community Wealth Fund, targeting millions back into our communities from dormant assets.

“Supporting deprived communities is a fantastic idea, and for us a critical step in helping to ensure our country shares equally in wealth created. After all, we all helped create it, so let’s all benefit from it.”

The alliance proposes that the fund should provide long-term investment for communities, with local people in control of the spend to ensure it reflects their aspirations and creates a legacy of positive change in their areas.

The fund would be financed by £2bn of unclaimed and dormant assets – from bonds, shares, insurance and pension funds and charitable trusts – which could grow to £5bn with corporate investment.