Declan’s Policy Blog: Q1 Chamber update including campaigns, forums and elections

The start of April, a new financial year and the chance to review our role as ‘the voice of business’ in Staffordshire. 

It’s been a hectic start to 2024 but here’s a flavour of the policy and lobbying work we have developed since the beginning of January:

Political Meetings

We hosted a meeting with the Shadow Minister for Business & Trade (Jonathan Reynolds, MP), on Thursday 21st March.  Following on from an opening session with more than 50 businesses, we joined Mr Reynolds on a brief tour of Synectics Solutions, before returning to Vale Park for a round table discussion with Chamber Patrons.  Key topics of discussion included cutting export red tape, skills, the green economy, energy costs, land value capture and National Insurance and tax.

Other Activity

We wrote to Metro Mayors Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester Combined Authority) and Andy Street (West Midlands Combined Authority) regarding their proposals to improve rail connectivity between Manchester and the West Midlands.  On 27.3.24., I joined members of our Transport forum to discuss this in more detail with Transport for West Midlands.  A detailed publication on the proposals will be unveiled in May 2024.

On Wednesday 20th March, we delivered the first of three Big Business Breakfast events, focusing on the theme of innovative skills solutions.  Guest speakers included James Timpson, OBE and Adam Whitehouse of TMT First.   Future events will look at the economy and planning/infrastructure.  Feedback from those who attended was extremely positive.

Our Digital forum is one of eleven Chamber Policy forums and is tasked with driving the growing digital sector in Staffordshire, enabling businesses to freely exchange information, share best practise and discuss exploiting digital, collaboration, skills and digital inclusion.

We have developed two working groups (Digital Divide Working Group (DDWG) and Digital Skills Working Group (DSWG)).  DSWG is looking at how to create a local view of a digital skills pathway, to enable learners (and where appropriate their families), to have signposting to technology specific learning opportunities and how these available courses can support a professional career development within the digital sector (and beyond).  

A brand-new community interest company (CIC) has now been formed, called ‘Re-boot IT for all.’  The CIC has been formed with the support of TMT First, based in Newcastle under Lyme and a provider of technology lifecycle services and innovative solutions for the circular economy.  The CIC will offer hardware repurposing, with securely wiped and clean items of hardware being offered to community groups or “trusted referrers”, who in turn can distribute to members of the community experiencing digital poverty. 


Clean Air Zone

Measures to improve air quality at “specific areas of exceedance” across North Staffordshire are required by Government.

  • A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) – Category C will extend across a defined area of Stoke-on-Trent stretching from Fenton to Joiners Square and Hanley.  Buses, coaches, lorries and vans entering the CAZ which do not meet emissions standards will be forced to pay a charge.
  • We are deeply concerned by the impact on businesses who may need to upgrade their fleets of vans and lorries, or who may be forced to pay the CAZ charge in order to receive deliveries from non-compliant lorries and vans.
  • A bus gate will be introduced to limit westbound traffic at peak times of the working week, on the A53 (Etruria Road) from its junction with the A500.  Electric vehicles, buses and emergency service vehicles will be allowed to join Etruria Road, but all other vehicles will be forced to find another route.
  • We are concerned that the issue of poor air quality will be displaced rather than be reduced.  We feel that the bus gate will lead to higher congestion on the approaches to the A500/A53 junction and will become an issue for staff recruitment and retention for businesses based along Etruria Road, as well as the wider area which extends to Festival Park and Hanley.

We were delighted by the recent announcement that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is developing a revised plan for the Clean Air Zone (CAZ), which will cut NO2 and which could see changes made to junctions to reduce congestion, as well as upgrading pedestrian and cycle routes.  This is welcome news for the business community   Whilst we recognise the need to improve air quality for our residents, the implementation of the CAZ would have a detrimental impact on local businesses. 

The news about a review of the CAZ proposal is welcome but we are still extremely concerned by the potential impact of a bus gate, which will prevent any non-compliant vehicles from driving in a westbound direction along Etruria Road (Basford Bank), at peak times of the working week and we call for a similar pragmatic approach to look again at the hugely negative impact of imposing a bus gate at Basford Bank.  We note that the local authorities (Stoke on Trent City Council, Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council) continue to develop the full business case for a solution to the NO2 pollution exceedance on Basford Bank.  All three local authorities involved in the project continue to express their concerns to Government about the impacts the peak period bus gate will have, for example on routes where traffic is diverted.  

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is planning to limit traffic access to Station Road at the front of Stoke on Trent Station, creating a new transport hub.  This will follow on the back of the launch of a new camera-controlled section on nearby College Road, with offending motorists who drive along this stretch, being fined.  We understand that this is scheme is due to progress and we’ll continue to monitor developments.

Etruria Valley Station

Etruria Valley Station was closed to passenger services in 2005. Jo Gideon MP submitted a bid to re-open this station, under the Restoring Your Railways Fund (RYRF).  The bid was rejected but we feel that a far better alternative would be to open a new station at Etruria Valley, approximately 1 mile north of the former Etruria Station and close to the site of the new Etruria Valley Link Road.

Back in November, we invited businesses to join us for a round table discussion and we have asked local businesses to make a financial commitment towards the cost of developing a business case.  This will cost an estimated £15,000.  We continue to seek support for the development of a business case.   In the early part of this year, we have held constructive meetings with both Stoke on Trent City Council and Staffordshire County Council. 

Letters & Consultation Responses

  • We wrote to Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council to query business rates billing to a member business, who was unable to get a detailed response.  We have since received an update from Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council and this has been shared with the member business.
  • We wrote to Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (SMDC) on behalf of a member business to query the guidelines on getting three quotes for a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) grant application.   Our member also pointed out that innovation is not necessarily linked to job creation.  There could be efficiencies which could mean that staff can be utilised in other areas of the business.   Innovation can, of course, also bring about a reversal of jobs created/safeguarded.  This could be down to a new process or use of machinery.  SMDC called the member directly with a response but acknowledged the need to review guidelines.  The issue was also escalated to the British Chambers’ of Commerce (BCC) who in turn, have lobbied Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC).  Feedback from DLUHC has acknowledged the need for a strategic initiative to streamline and simplify funding, helping stakeholders navigate the local funding landscape.
  • We wrote to Chancellor of the Exchequer on 28.2.24. to call for a number of business ‘asks’ in the Spring Budget.  We were pleased to see that our call to raise the registration threshold for VAT has been approved and this has risen from £85,000 to £90,000.  It really does help small business as the administrative burden often sits disproportionately heavily on them because they don’t have the financial and operational resources at their disposal to deal with the paperwork required. 
  • We wrote to Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, calling for a joined-up transport strategy for North Staffordshire, following on from the government announcement of £4 billion for transport improvements across the country.
  • We submitted a response to the government’s consultation on strengthening policy on brownfield land development.
  • Copies of all letters can be obtained from

Policy forums

Our eleven policy forums continue to underpin our policy and lobbying work.  Our forums are composed of Chamber member businesses from across a diverse range of business sectors.   We invite guest speakers to join our forums and deliver informative updates to the business community.  Our policy forums are a great way to keep updated and to join the conversations in shaping the work we do.  Updates from our policy forums in Q1…..

ForumMain Agenda Items
Manufacturers’Guided tour of facilities at Stoke on Trent College Staffordshire Chambers’ Manifesto UN Sustainable Development Goals
Planning & InfrastructureNational Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) update UN Sustainable Development Goals
TransportElectric vehicles – Experience of driving. Update from Midlands Connect Staffs County Council transport update UN Sustainable Development Goals
DigitalPresentation by Clyk and D2NA on Digital collaboration Digital Skills Working Group (DSWG update) Digital Divide Working Group (hardware) UN Sustainable Development Goals
Employment, Skills and HRSuccession planning – Using the 9 Box Method Gender equality UN Sustainable Development Goals
Energy, Environment and SustainabilityStaffordshire COP Presentation on sustainability positioning of companies UN Sustainable Development Goals
Money MattersMiddle Market Business Index (MMBI) Spring Budget 2024 – Business ‘asks’ UN Sustainable Development Goals

Coming up

We will be launching our new Staffordshire Chambers’ of Commerce Manifesto in the coming weeks.  With a General Election due to take place in the next nine months, now is a good time to update our Manifesto, ready to share with politicians of all parties.   The Manifesto will be based around a number of themes:

  • Connected Staffordshire
  • Digital Staffordshire
  • Global Staffordshire
  • Green Staffordshire
  • Skilled Staffordshire

We will be outlining a number of pledges linked to these themes and we will also be calling on commitments from stakeholders and partners.  Watch this space for further details!

If you would like to join our policy forums or if you have any questions about our policy and lobbying work, feel free to get in touch: