As the economy begins to gather pace in a return to open trading, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce remains committed to supporting our members and the wider business community to get through one of the toughest trading environments most of us will have ever seen.

We are partnering with customer experience specialists Insight6 to announce a brand-new Chambers exclusive membership offer, discounted for members, that will help businesses to reopen safely.

Insight6 have developed a business tool that enables all businesses, regardless of size or sector, to regularly engage with their staff and customers to obtain feedback on their experience and how safe they feel when visiting business premises.

With the retail sector preparing to reopen on 4th July, safety now sits at centre of the customer journey. Operating in a way that helps colleagues to feel safe whilst at work, and giving customers and clients confidence that your business is a safe place to purchase the goods and services that you need them to buy, is now the most important part of any business’s operation – and future survival.

Each customer will judge for themselves if they think your business is a safe place to visit, not the business itself, and regardless of how many signs you have on display or how much hazard tape is on the floor, it is the feeling of safety that will determine if you keep them as customers or lose them to your competition.

The Team Safety and Customer Confidence Portal enables staff members and customers to anonymously raise concerns regarding safety to allow a fast response from management. This immediate response will help to resolve safety concerns and ensure that colleagues, clients, and customers feel comfortable returning to the workplace.

 

Creating a safe place for colleagues to work in and customers or clients to visit will be essential to business recovery.

 

You can access the Insight6 portal at: https://www.insight6.com/scc-team-safety/

 

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

Once more we have some changes in how we are to control the spread of Covid-19 – just when we have planned spaces and bought the signs for a 2m spaced working environment, the Prime Minister’s announces changes to England’s lockdown from 4th July. For once though, official guidelines for businesses have been published at much the same time as the announcement.

The 2m social distancing rule will be relaxed to “one metre plus” where 2m is not possible – but people will be encouraged to have mitigation in place to reduce transmission. This is confusing and will businesses want to, or be able to, police how this operates in practice and in different places? The works kitchen may have different rules from the office or the factory floor.

However, it is great news that our hospitality sector can reopen, indoors and outdoors, with safety measures such as table-only service. Hotels, B&Bs, campsites, caravan parks, hairdressers, playgrounds, museums, galleries are among the businesses that can reopen.  I have booked a B&B in Cornwall to go and see my parents-in-law – even though I can’t go into their house but can at least talk to them across the garden.

And none of us can be complacent. All this comes in the wake of an open letter in the British Medical Journal from health leaders who are calling for an urgent review as to whether we are properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus with further loss of life. How will businesses cope if there is another lockdown, even in specific areas?

You can view the government guidelines in full at: https://bit.ly/2BwzfzR

Late last week the government announced its Code of Practice for commercial property relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic to help landlords and tenants work constructively to find solutions that keep their businesses open and people in work.

The pandemic has created severe cashflow problems for many SMEs who will need time to rebuild and recover. The Code sets out principles for landlords and tenants to work together and stresses that transparency and collaboration is needed to manage the issues and situation as we move to a post lockdown environment.

You can view the Code of Practice in full on the gov.uk website : https://bit.ly/3dsC2XO

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 I write this blog the Prime Minister has just updated Parliament on changes to England’s lockdown, coming into force on 4th July.

Using words such as “cautious” and “entirely conditional” he has stated that there would be no hesitation in reintroducing restrictions if there is any resurgence in infections.

The main points are:

  • The 2m social distancing rule will be relaxed to “one metre plus”where 2m is not possible – but people will be encouraged to have mitigation in place to reduce transmission
  • People will be able to meet one other household at a time indoors, with social distancing. Meet-ups do not always have to be with the same household
  • Pubs and restaurants can reopen indoors and outdoors with safety measures such as table-only service. Hotels, B&Bs, campsites, caravan parks, hairdressers, playgrounds, museums, galleries are among the businesses that canreopen
  • Nightclubs, spas, indoor soft play areas, bowling alleys, indoor gyms and nail bars are among the businesses that cannot reopen at this stage

The Chambers welcomes a return of our tourism and hospitality economy as it is such a large sector of our economy and one with huge potential for growth and jobs.

It is worth reminding ourselves what a fantastically creative and diverse county Staffordshire is, and what a fantastic offer our visitor economy presents to visitors and residents alike.

From big headline like Alton Towers and the National Memorial Arboretum and World of Wedgwood to small artisan craft makers, museums and heritage attractions, pubs, restaurants and unique market towns and villages, there really is something to suit all ages and tastes. When you add in our unrivalled countryside, canals, stately homes, and parks then you start to appreciate just what we have to offer.

From July 4th we all need to play our part in ensuring support for our local visitor economy.  Personally, I cannot wait to paint a mug at Emma Bridgewater, visit our amazing museums and galleries or browse and buy some unique treats from anyone of our independent retailers.

 

We are awaiting the official Government upload of the new guidelines but in the meantime if you want to raise any issues or concerns please email: 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

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