The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Member Blog: Tackling Discrimination In The Workplace – A Guide For Employers

By Zee Hussain, Partner and Head of Corporate Services at Simpson Millar

Simpson Millar's Zee Hussain, Partner and Head of Corporate Services, explains how employers can tackle discrimination in the workplace and avoid situations that can often lead to claims for compensation.

Keep On Top Of Your Legal Duties

Under the Equality Act 2010, it's unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees, clients, or customers on the grounds of:
  •          Age
  •         Disability
  •       Gender reassignment, including being or becoming transgender
  •          Pregnancy and/or maternity
  •          Religion/belief or lack of religion/belief
  •          Marital status, including being in a civil partnership
  •          Race (this includes colour, nationality, or ethnic or national origin)
  •          Sex
  •          Sexual orientation

Knowing how these characteristics could impact your business on a day-to-day basis can make a big difference in protecting your business from costly claims.

For example, if your business is making redundancies and this affects a member of staff who is on maternity leave, or shared parental or adoption leave, they might be entitled to preferential treatment relating to suitable vacancies that are available in your business.

As the reporting element of the gender pay gap regulations is now in effect for businesses with 250 or more employees, it's necessary for big employers to share accurate data on gender pay and be prepared to tackle any issues.

Deal With Sensitive Topics Carefully

Discussions around an employee's disability or health-related matters need to be handled very carefully, especially during the recruitment process.

If, for example, an individual mentions any issues with their mental health or they discuss their disability during an interview it's important to make them aware that you cannot discuss the subject further with them.

This is because they are protected by the Equality Act 2010, and it would therefore be unlawful for you to discuss anything related to their disability or health that isn't appropriate to the role. It would also be unlawful for you to not consider them for the position on the basis of what they have told you, and they could take action via an employment tribunal if they believe that they have been discriminated against after sharing this information.

You can, however, ask them questions about their health or disability when an offer of employment has been made. But, the questions can only focus on whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made for the individual relating to the recruitment process or their ability to carry out the role.

If your business deals with construction and you're recruiting staff to put up scaffolding, you can, for example, ask individuals about whether they are able to physically climb ladders and scaffolding as this is an essential part of the role.

Safeguard Your Employees Through Effective Policies

Bringing up the subject of discriminatory treatment with an employer is never easy for an employee, especially as many fear that they won't be taken seriously or will face negative repercussions.

It's good practice to have a clear procedure in place for employees that focuses on how they can report discriminatory treatment, such as first approaching their manager or member of HR. It should also outline what steps you will take to resolve the matter if you find that they have been discriminated against – this could include considering whether disciplinary action is needed or whether a process or policy within the business needs to be changed to stop the problem from occurring again.

Communicating this process to your staff is vital, and might even prevent the situation from escalating.

Crack Down On Inappropriate Behaviour In The Workplace  

Whilst it's not uncommon to find friendly banter amongst colleagues in workplaces, it can easily get out of hand and when it does, someone usually ends up getting hurt.

Harassment and inappropriate comments or jokes are some of the main reasons behind cases of discrimination in the workplace. 1 in 5 mothers, for example, have admitted to experiencing harassment or negative comments relating to their pregnancy from colleagues and even from their employers.

Creating an inclusive and open working environment is essential for employers, where employees have the confidence to know that they can approach you about any issues and all staff know that there will be consequences for inappropriate and offensive behaviour.

Check Your Policies For Indirect Discrimination

Some forms of discrimination are quite easy to identify, but when it comes to indirect discrimination do you know how it can impact your business?

Indirect discrimination can happen when a policy or rule in your business applies to all staff but puts a specific group of individuals at a disadvantage or conflicts with a protected characteristic – such as religion.

Christmas and Easter tend to be busy times of the year for some businesses, which is why they might have policies in place that limit the annual leave employees can have or stop them from taking time off. 

But, if employees were allowed to take time off for religious festivals at other times in the year this policy could be viewed as indirectly discriminating against employees who are Christian.

Spotting potential problems or gaps in your policies like this isn't always easy, which is why having them reviewed by one of our legally trained experts can ensure that your business is protected in the long run.

Take A Consistent Approach

Although your employees will approach you in different circumstances, you should ideally have a set process in place for dealing with certain types of situations, such as:
  • Flexible working requests
  • Complaints and grievances
  • Issues with performance and lateness

It's a good idea to keep accurate records and evidence of all discussions you've had with your staff – whether they were formal or informal – as this demonstrates that you've followed the right process.

Dealing with problems or requests in a fair and consistent way will reduce the risk of workplace disputes from occurring, and might even prevent your business from facing legal action through an employment tribunal.

Having an effective, comprehensive policy on dealing with discrimination in the workplace can make the world of difference to the future of your business. Whether you'd like some help in identifying areas for improvement or you want to introduce new policies, our Employment Law experts are ready to provide the support that you need.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Member Blog: 4 Major Industries Augmented by VR and AR

4 Major Industries Augmented by VR and AR - By Noir Agency

Anthony Logan - CEO & Alex Mellor - COO

It is no secret that the changes brought by the digital era are making brands fight for space in new and crowded markets. New technologies are being born every second and the companies need to think of innovative way of incorporating them to their strategies, in order to stand out from the crowd.
One type of innovation that is already increasingly adopted in different markets is Virtual and Augmented Reality technology. VR represents the device that creates a whole new digital world, where the user is immersed in, while AR incorporates digital elements to the real world.

Thinking about this, here are a few ways in which the advancement of VR and AR technologies can impact brands within different markets:

Entertainment Industry
Probably one of the industries that takes advantage of this innovation the most. Virtual Reality spaces are being created more and more each day to promote movies, TV shows and specially games. So it is a great marketing tool that sets products apart from others. Recently, brands like Live Nation Channel and Samsung are partnering up to transmit live concerts through the Next VR app.

The use of VR and AR is already revolutionizing the prototypes. Through VR experiences, companies are able to show what they are building and also present their products to the customers without the need of a physical store. This new level of prototyping is making it easier for companies to get feedback on the product in early stages of development, which implies a huge improvement in production.

In the healthcare industry, Virtual Reality can enormously improve the service offered by professionals. One example is the use of controlled environments in therapy. It usually helps people to overcome their phobias by immersing the patients in virtual reality experiences where the doctors can actually examine patient’s reactions.

Market Research
Virtual Reality environments are also helping marketing departments to understand their audience in a better way. According to OgilvyAction study, 39% of purchase decisions are made right before buying, so it is helpful for marketers to know how people behave in store, by reproducing this environment virtually.

It is clear that brands should start thinking about how technologies such as VR and AR can bring benefits to their companies, in order to build a strong customer experience that can make them breakthrough in the ever changing digital world.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Member Blog: The Marketing Spectrum – from Brand to Promotion

The Marketing Spectrum – from Brand to Promotion
By David Wright - Founder-Director of BSA Marketing

Although closely related, there are clear and recognised differences between Selling and Marketing.
What is considered less often is the Marketing Spectrum. At one end is sales promotion, where the marketing goal is generating leads. Typically this is a short-term process.
At the other end of the spectrum is brand marketing – a longer-term process – where the goal is building awareness, perception and understanding of the value your company delivers.
Achieving this goal helps to ensure that when people in your market think of the products/services you supply, they think of you as a good place to buy.
In larger (i.e. non-SME) companies, much of their marketing effort focuses on:
  • Press Relations
  • Brand Awareness
  • Market Engagement
  • Market Perceptions
This marketing activity isn’t so much about generating leads as managing how the company is perceived by their customers and markets. i.e. building the Brand. They know that a strong brand adds real value to their business.
The value of a brand
According to US business publishing giant Forbes, the most valuable brands in 2016 were:
  1. Apple.                                     Brand value: $154.1 billion.
  2. Google(Alphabet).               Brand value: $82.5 billion.
  3. Microsoft.                              Brand value: $75.2 billion.
  4. Coca-Cola.                             Brand value: $58.5 billion.
Clearly, building a brand is a great way of adding real value to a business!
The fundamental value in these businesses is their brand. Think about it, if any big brand launches a new product or service, they get noticed, and they try to be very careful that their new offering reinforces their brand – though if you remember Dasani Water launched by Coca Coca-Cola in 1999, even the big boys don’t always get it right first time! You can read the article here
This said, despite the initial problems, the power of the Coca-Cola brand marketing machine didn’t let them down! In the year to May 2016, Dasani held a US market share of 9.9% worth some $1Billion in sales (Source)
But is Brand Marketing relevant to the SME sector?
So what has this got to do with me?
Every business – even your’s – has a brand, and your brand has a real and sustainable value; yet for the majority of SME businesses, when owners and managers think of marketing, their primary focus is on sales promotion, generating leads. Leads can deliver short-term revenue but it is a growing brand that delivers sustained business value.
When a business focuses on sales promotion, if a particular activity doesn’t deliver on expectations then the ‘marketing’ stops. There can then be a period of little or no market communication and engagement while the next lead generation plan is put together.
Don’t get me wrong, lead generation is important for sales and revenue but sales promotion isn’t really building the business brand which is what grows the business value.
SME brand building
By building your own brand you grow real substance in your business – a platform which can deliver value, performance and impact to your sales promotion.
A well-structured marketing process should encompass
brand building as well as lead generation
Amongst SMEs, brand building is too often ignored. I think a key reason for this is cost perception. Brand marketing can be seen as an expensive luxury because it doesn’t drive perceptible short-term sales which are the focus of many SME businesses.   However, building your brand in the shorter term can have a real impact on your sales promotion in the medium and longer term.
The more people know and trust your business, the more
notice they will take of your promotional efforts.
Although it is true that 20 years ago, brand marketing needed deep pockets, it is absolutely not the case today; yet there is still an issue – there is a quandary in SME marketing.
The lure of Sales Promotion
Because many SME businesses equate marketing with sales promotion there is a plethora of companies that have grown up offering marketing (sales promotion) services to meet this demand. These services can look appealing so the bias continues – even though, in practice, the services offered (and paid for!) don’t always quite meet the expectations of the SME => Time to go and look for another source of leads!
There is an untapped opportunity for SME businesses...
I guess the lead generation dilemma will continue but there is still an untapped opportunity for SME businesses to benefit from exploring the wider marketing spectrum and consider brand marketing.
As I mentioned above, as well as building business value, effective brand marketing will also have a positive impact on sales promotion – it is win-win.
How do I bring brand marketing into my business?
Here are my top 5 tips for making brand marketing a core element of your business development strategy:
  1. Create a written plan defining:
    • Your key business proposition
    • Your target market
    • Why your proposition delivers real value benefit to your customers
  1. Use the above to develop a practical communications strategy and action plan to get your message out to your market
  2. Regularly review and refine your plan
  3. Stick at it
    Brand building takes time. You should see it as a consistent function of your ongoing business, something that you keep doing all the time.
  4. Don’t spend too much!
    This may sound like an odd thing to say but if you over-commit your resources (could be time, or money, or both) you will struggle to stick at it and sustained activity is essential.
    As a guide, I suggest limiting your ongoing brand marketing budget to no more than 0.5% -1% of your business turnover.
There is absolutely nothing to stop you developing and running your own brand marketing. There are lots of free tools online to help you. If, however, you would appreciate some support to get you going or keep you going please get in touch.

David Wright is a Founder-Director of BSA Marketing –

Member Blog: 5 Ways to Start a Presentation

5 Ways to Start a Presentation
By Buffalo7

You have a maximum of a minute to capture your audience’s attention. Failure to do so and the remainder of your presentation will fall on deaf ears. With this in mind it’s important you start strong so we’ve put together this blog of five different ways you could start your presentation.

1.       You can quote me on that
A great quote doesn’t have to be a famous one it just has to be memorable. In fact, you should probably avoid clich├ęs. We’ve all heard the Confucius quote a million times “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” so try to stay clear of quotes you expect the majority of your audience have heard before.

Get your audience interacting from the off. You could put half of the quote on the first slide and then ask your audience to finish it.

“A good speech is like a pencil;………”

Have you got it? Course you have.

2.      Share a secret
Don’t delve into your private life, what you get up to at the weekends is your business but something along the lines of;

“Hi. My name is James and I’m going to share a secret with you. When I started this job, my greatest fear was public speaking.”

This shows your human side and can help you connect with your audience. They should immediately empathise with you and will you on from this point onwards.

3.      Be a contrarian
Not for the sake of it but if you have an unconventional approach that goes against popular beliefs then be brave and go with it from the start. If you’re talk is on sales techniques for 2017 your opener could be;

“We all know that cold calling as a legitimate sales technique died a long time ago. Well I’m here to tell you that that’s simply not true. Here’s why…”

They may not agree with you but they’ll certainly be listening.

4.      A picture says a...
Starting with a powerful image can do the hard work for you. If you can evoke strong emotions early on you’ll have your audience rapt from the get go and this is far easier done with a powerful picture than a plethora of text. Make them feel with a cute puppy or an iconic historical photograph, for example.

5.      Tailor your opening gambit
Think about your audience and what would appeal best to them. Try and tailor your opener to their industry and interests. A room of coders will respond better to a joke about Linux than a room of architects. A group of philosophy students will find a Socrates anecdote more relatable than one about Picasso.
Start strong, finish strong
Once you’ve chosen your opener, it’s a good idea to return to it when closing your presentation. This completes the storytelling loop and leaves your take-home message fixed in your audiences mind. A good speech is like a pencil; it has to have a point.

Buffalo 7 is the UK’s leading PowerPoint presentation design agency working with names including UEFA Champions League, Dell, Red Bull, Facebook and the BBC. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Chamber Blog: Fixing our broken housing market?

By Christian Spence - Head of Research & Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

The publication on Tuesday 7 February 2017 of the government's housing white paper Fixing our broken housing market is a welcome addition to the policy landscape if only for the tacit acknowledgement that the failure to deliver an adequate supply of housing in the UK is a long-term problem that requires significant remedial action to fix. However, it is not clear that this publication offers any new answers to this critical issue.

The paper correctly states that the fundamental problem is one of under-supply, and that the lack of suitable land and sufficient planning permissions lie at the heart of the issue. Local authority plans are often incomplete or not up-to-date which slows down the planning application process, a problem that has been exacerbated over the recent past by significant cuts to local authority planning departments caused by fiscal constraints imposed by central government. Coupled with an old-fashioned and out-dated approach to Green Belt use where the arbitrary caps on city growth established in the 1940s are considered suitable for today and a lack of acceptance that brownfield land can only provide a limited amount of development and that much of it requires remediation of a scale that makes development commercially nonviable, the system overall seems incapable of delivering what is needed and some of the changes proposed fail to take into account the challenges of developers.

Introducing timescales within which development must be completed after planning permission is approved misunderstands the complexities and financial risks that developers face in bringing forward proposals, particularly of a large-scale. Government and planning authorities must work more closely together to ensure they understand each other's position and that the length of time required to move proposals from conception to delivery, often slowed down by the planning system itself, exposes builders to ever-greater risks. Combined with other issues such as difficulty accessing capital and skills and increasingly complex regulations and requirements, together these push up the development costs requiring ever further intervention to provide affordable homes.

Planning, at a local and city-regional level must develop beyond simple land-use allocation and seek to release greater areas of land for development alongside the development of all other infrastructure, whether physical, digital or social, required to support sustainable communities of the future. Our response to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework consultation highlights these issues in detail. Identification of land for housing development, seemingly chosen because it is politically easier to justify rather than ensuring that the road, public transport, digital, school and health facilities are in place, or at least the needs have been identified and planned, is not in itself sufficient.

For too long this country has been held back by artificially introduced barriers to development. Government and local authorities should approach this problem not through further interventions, but by removing the barriers that exist. It is not clear that this white paper, or the GM Spatial Framework, as they stand, answer these questions.

You can read the GMCC consultation response to GMSF by clicking here.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Member Blog: Social Media for the Construction Industry

By Zahid Hussain - Script Social Media

The construction industry is lagging behind on social media.

Social Media is challenging, because you have to continually connect with clients. It’s exhausting. The problem is made more complex by the bewildering array of social media platforms. So, what do you do?

Like anything that commands long-term commitment, a solid foundation is essential. Without detailed planning, the right assets (marketing materials), and long-term commitment, whatever you build is bound to collapse.

Getting Started

Here are some of the questions that you might be mulling over to get you started:

Which social media platform offers the best return on investment?
How do you get noticed over the din of noise?
How much does it really cost?

These are all good questions and you probably have many more. But let’s say you had to start with no budget and wanted to supercharge your presence on social media, can be it done? Absolutely.

To do it well, we’re going to give you a process to follow. It’s completely free. However, you will need time to think things through, but by the end you will have a social media strategy that will frame your online digital presence. So, are you ready?

Step ONE:

Your Identity

a) List your brand values: can you think of three words which capture who you are? For example: customer-centred, ethical, quality-focused.

b) Gather your assets: these are your logo, house style (key words and rules for how you communicate your brand at present), collection of key URLs etc.

c) Update your house style with your branded values.


All social media posts, irrespective of platform, must adhere to your updated house style.

Step TWO:

Your Audience

For the construction industry, you might come up with:

The public sector (contracts)
Private sector
o Buyers (B2B or B2C)
o The industry itself
o Third-parties
Yourself (staff, your board members and so on)

For each, add why you want to connect with that particular audience and the difference it makes to your bottom line. Then, list the kind of material that would engender the greatest engagement. For instance, under the sub-heading “The Industry Itself” you may well develop the following Tramlines:

Changes to legislation/building regulations
Opportunities/trends emerging in the sector
Your successes


All posts must connect with at least one audience.


Mapping audiences to social media platforms.

Some platforms are better at engaging with particular audiences. Facebook remains the largest social media platform with the most powerful demographics-based advertising. Pinterest has the best ROI. Instagram is the best for branding. LinkedIn is a sure winner for B2B, but requires a specific type of engagement.

You will find that some platforms cater better for multiple audiences than others. Facebook and Twitter are rock solid choices.

Once completed you will have produced a table that maps the following:

Audience > Content > Platform

You now have a social media strategy. If you then apply it to a calendar, you will have a working operational plan too: well done! 


Social media isn’t like putting up a tent, it’s like building a small town. It takes a lot of planning and dedication. With the right approach, you can guarantee a solid presence across digital media that resonates with clients and cements your brand’s reputation.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Chamber Blog: Prime Minister May lays out plans for Brexit

By Alex Davies - Research Analyst, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Following Theresa May’s speech laying out Britain’s objectives going into the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, overall, we don’t know a great deal that we didn’t suspect already, but we now have confirmation of a few things in particular.

The Prime Minister made it clear that the deal she wants for Britain cannot mean continued membership of the single market. The objective instead is to work towards a “bold, comprehensive and ambitious” free trade deal with the EU in order to maintain “the greatest access possible”. I’ve explained before why the term ‘access’ is meaningless, but there were a few more details. May said that she is not against the idea of replicating aspects of the single market, specifically mentioning financial services and the automotive industry, and saying that it makes no sense to start from scratch.
May has made it clear in the past that she does not view our status within the customs union as a binary thing, and reiterated this in her speech today. She made it very clear that we would seek to find ourselves outside of the EU’s Common Commercial Policy – allowing us to do our own trade deals – but again, May mentioned something along the lines of an associate membership of the customs union in order to keep trade flowing freely.

The other main announcement was that the final deal would be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, a welcome development for many but one which for now has no clear implications. Nobody seems to know what would happen if Parliament did reject a deal, supposedly towards the end of the two-year negotiating period. At this point would we revert to WTO rules and the hardest Brexit of all? The pending legal case on the revocability of A50 will surely have a massive impact on exactly what this means.

May rounded off her speech by proclaiming that “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal”. This echoes the Chancellor’s previous sentiment that in the event of a rock-hard WTO-rules Brexit, Britain would strip regulations and lower taxes to establish itself as a Singapore on Europe’s doorstep – something the EU would be concerned about certainly. For now, this strategy is being put forward as a worst case scenario backup plan, and as a mild threat to the EU27 to work with us in good faith towards a new arrangement. The reaction to this from the rest of Europe however, remains to be seen.
There were a few other good details in the speech. On EU citizens in Britain, May said that the government would seek to guarantee those rights as soon as possible, but perhaps in a veiled jibe at Merkel’s previous refusal at such a deal mentioned that there is no unanimity on this from the other side. There was a commitment that workers’ rights would be fully protected and indeed bolstered once within our remit. There was also a commitment to continued collaboration on matters of crime and foreign affairs, as well as science, research, technology and medicine. May suggested that it is reasonable for us to continue to pay into the EU budget for some of these privileges, but that these sums would not be vast.

Another unclear but important part of the speech covered how the PM sees the Brexit process happening. May is hoping for an agreement on the future relationship by the end of the two-year negotiating period, followed by a “phased implementation” utilising multiple “interim arrangements”. How this is different than a transitional arrangement is anybody’s guess, but it was made clear that a cliff-edge is to be avoided. How much detail the PM expects us to agree upon within two years is not clear at all, as would be impossible to negotiate even the trade deal alone within such a time. Instead, it feels as if the PM is hoping to agree upon a broad position within two years, but is happy for the minutiae of process to take much longer, my guess would be a decade or more.

I’m sure that many leavers got a bit tingly during parts of the speech, but the main criticism of it will be that it is undoubtedly a ‘have your cake and eat it approach’, despite being told by the EU27 that such an approach is unacceptable. It seems from how May addressed the ‘phased implementation’ strategy though, that the position she is talking about is the end-game, not where we will be in 2019. The suggestion of multiple interim arrangements necessitates that May understands realising her vision of a global Britain in full won’t be happening in the near future, most likely not during her premiership. In reality, exiting the single market and the customs union was almost always an inevitability at some point in the future of post-EU Britain, but we still don’t have a lot of clarity over the steps we will be required to take to get there. The type of trade deal May is proposing would be more comprehensive than Canada’s CETA agreement, and when such an agreement has never been concluded in less than seven years, often taking more than ten, it could be a long time before we drop out the SM. Until then, interim arrangements will surely be some kind of quasi-membership until we have figured things out, which makes me still reluctant to call this a hard Brexit. In fact, any new UK-EU trade deal will require an independent dispute resolution regime handled by a supranational court. May explicitly said that she is okay with supranational institutions, just not any as strong as the EU ones. This points us directly towards membership of EFTA, which has its own court ready to take the European Court of Justice’s place. Alongside a comprehensive FTA, this would essentially put us in a Swiss-plus position.

Once again, the vital missing piece of the puzzle here is timelines. If following the negotiations, we accept that we won’t be able to do any of this stuff for a long time, then what do we do in the interim? May even conceded that interim arrangements would be up for negotiation. In terms of our final destination then, May has been quite clear as to the government’s objectives. As to what steps we take to get there though, I would still say that nothing is off the table.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Member Blog: Who’s afraid of 2017? The view from the Northern Powerhouse

By Simon Collingwood, Director for Quatro North

2017 brings turmoil at the global, national and regional level. But what does this mean for the North of England? The Northern Powerhouse will enter its third anniversary this year. This is a long time in politics and unlike many other Government initiatives, it has firmly and successfully galvanised support across the North. What can we expect going forward and what should we be looking for in 2017?

1. It’s the economy, stupid

The Northern Powerhouse is both a political and economic construct. Political in terms of devolution and positioning adopted by the Conservative Government; but economic, because substantively the mission is one of growth through increasing investment and narrowing wage differentials with the Greater South East (and international competitors).

The forecasts at the national and regional level are not good; EY’s recent analysis pointed to price rises, increasing uncertainty, increasing inequality, and falling household income and spending. For the Northern Powerhouse region, forecasts are for lower growth 2016 - 2019 than experienced in the previous 3 years in the North West, Yorkshire & Humber and North East.

Against this backdrop, it will be interesting to watch for further spending commitments or the use of other policy levers from the Government to offset this gloomy picture.

2. Metro Mayors

In May, we are due to participate and observe the election of Metro Mayors in Greater Manchester, Greater Birmingham, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region and Tees Valley. (Though Sheffield City Region will have a challenging time to meet the May deadline for the election following the High Court Judgement just before Christmas which upheld Derbyshire County Council’s complaint about the quality of the public consultation.)

I will be paying close attention to the posture adopted by each of the candidates toward central Government and indeed between the newly elected Mayors. I think it will also be critical to look at how they galvanise their wider political constituencies on strategic matters of housing and infrastructure development. The voter turnout numbers will certainly be something to keep an eye on.
Similarly, voter turnout for the PCC elections will also be one to watch, as poor voter turnout could undermine the reputation of the role.

Its finally worth noting that while the Mayors will be the spectacle, it will also be necessary to look at the pursuit of wider devolution deals such as in Leeds City Region, Lincolnshire, and Lancashire.

3. Industrial Strategy

It has been suggested that the Government’s Industrial Strategy should be published by the end of January. It was earlier anticipated for the Autumn Statement and then before Christmas, so it will be received with considerable expectation. No.10’s appointment of Giles Wilkes of the FT to lead their involvement in the policy development is an interesting addition to the mix.

For the Northern Powerhouse, I will be looking to see how the Strategy will dock in with the earlier pronouncements on the Northern Powerhouse (HMT’s Strategy in November) and the well-regarded Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review (Transport for the North). The latter was very strong on identifying the sectors where the North has clear national and international comparative advantage - Advanced Manufacturing, Energy, Health Innovation and Digital Technologies. What will the Industrial Strategy contribute to these growth sectors in the North?


Brexit will continue to dominate political headlines in 2017. It will be interesting to see how close we get to answers on what Brexit might look like rather than just the rhetoric. The Prime Minister has reconfirmed that she intends to invoke Article 50, formally signalling the UK’s intention to leave the EU, in March 2017. Central Government will rightly take the lead on these negotiations. The question will be how strong will the engagement be between regions, business, and wider civil society in the formation of their positions and analysis.

5. Housing

Four of the 14 new Garden Villages announced by Housing Minister Gavin Barwell this week are in the North – St Cuthbert’s, near Carlisle, Bailrigg, outside Lancaster, Halsnead near Liverpool and Handforth in north east Cheshire. It remains to be seen whether this type of Government-inspired initiative will succeed in delivering the scale of new homes needed.

The evidence, so far, from the public response to the Greater Manchester Spatial Strategy draft allocations is that some communities in many parts of the Manchester conurbation will present a challenge to the politicians in the run-up to the Mayoral elections in May.

6. Transport

We’ve enjoyed working with clients on the importance of transport infrastructure to the growth agenda in the North of England. Strategic investment in both transport infrastructure and services in the North of England to link our cities and their hinterlands will be a critical ingredient to accelerating growth here. As such, we will be looking closely at the profile of spend and indeed fresh commitments to drive confidence and growth.

A key part of the transport debate, and indeed all the points above, will be the ability of a range of stakeholder organisations to work together to best advocate why the North is a national economic priority. This is a process of building the business cases and delivering the messages to the right audiences at the right time.  We will all have a role to play.

From Quatro, we wish you and your families a very happy 2017.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Member Blog: New Year Resolutions of a Business Owner

By Paul Tooth, CEO of BrightHR

As 2016 draws to a close, our minds start to turn to the acts of self-improvement we want to put in place for the coming year - be it to join the gym, travel more or learn a new language. As the CEO at BrightHR, now is also the time that I start to think about how both myself and our employees can do better in 2017 - how we can grow and be more productive, happy and successful.

As with any New Year resolution, its best not to be overly ambitious but to identify small changes that can be realistically made, and actually, make a big difference. Here Ill share some goals for 2017 and a few pieces of advice to hold in mind come January:

Make more time for face-to-face meetings
As we know, good relationships are hugely beneficial for business, but they rarely seem to be our highest priority. Relationships typically feel important rather than urgent and suffer accordingly in the time-poor environment of most working lives. There are always more pressing things standing in the way, whether they are HR, legal, administration or compliance issues.

Getting to know your clients is good, but actually enjoyingthe relationship is even better. For 2017, I plan to make more time for face-to-face meetings by continuing to expand our field sales team. We must be ready and willing to give our clients time and if we dont have it, then we need to start freeing it up and doing whatever it takes to build stronger relationships.
Spread the automation mantra
Leveraging technology to automate the mundane, daily tasks that sap your time and energy is what were all about as a business. Theres opportunity for any repetitive workflow in your business to be automated, and the benefits can be huge. Dedicate yourself to investigating technology that can move you toward automation, and youll be on your way.

One of my resolutions for 2017 is to spread the automation mantra to more start-ups and SMEs which may be struggling with productivity and time management.

BrightHRs research revealed that more than a third of business owners in the UK cite HR administration as one of the biggest drains on productivity. We also discovered that automating the holiday request process was at least 10x faster than using a manual process - and thats if nothing went wrong in the manual process!

And its not just HR, there are all sorts of repetitive processes that can be automated.

Measure productivity
Recent research by BrightHR revealed that only eight per cent of UK companies regularly monitor their productivity levels, and more than this, many are in the dark about the real business benefits of doing so.

In 2017 Ill continue to work with our team to identify our biggest time saps, be it needless admin or too many meetings. This isnt a one off fix, its an ongoing process, but one which stands to empower both yourself and your teams to make vital adjustments.

Productivity is key to the success of any business and the more engaged the workers are, the more productive they will be.

Be more balanced
As personal and professional lives are increasingly merging, its become more important to schedule breaks and holidays. This is time that you can spend seeing family, visiting somewhere youve always wanted to go.

Theres no doubt that regular breaks make staff more focused and productive, and productivity is key to the success of any business. BrightHR recently conducted a survey of UK business leaders which revealed, that 90 per cent recognise that having a good relationship with employees has a positive effect on productivity. Being understanding and generous with their time away from the office in crucial to this.

To help manage the process, a key piece of advice for small business owners would be to learn how to better cope with the challenge of holiday date-bagging by encouraging staff to spread their time off throughout the year - and start looking for that city break bargain to make the most of it yourself!

Think content
What happens when a prospective customer visits your company's website? Is there fresh content that is going to keep them engaged? Does it look like it represents a company that cares about the impression they want to make on the rest of the world?

Your company's website is your digital storefront. Often, it is the only source your customer might look at to determine if they want to spend money on your service or product. So your website needs to be the best.

Continuing to generate engaging content will be an ongoing our website will be a focus for our business next year, including content that demonstrates new technologies and advice for fledgling businesses.

Look after your people
There's a famous saying, that "culture eats strategy for breakfast". It's a lesson that a lot of businesses neglect, despite good intentions. No one sets out to create a lousy working environment; frustrating and unproductive work cultures develop when no one acts to deliberately create something better.
Employees who are engaged in a positive workplace culture are inherently more productive. And there are loads of things that business owners can do without huge budgets.
For 2017, I will continue to develop our trusting and inclusive environment, where everyone feels respected and motivated.

Did you know the first week back in the New Year has proven to be the busiest time for staff booking holidays? Why not starting automating this now and add a 30 day free trial of BrightHR to your resolution list? Go to

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Timely advice from Bacs – plan ahead or yule be sorry!

By Nizam Yusuf – Senior Content Creative and Social Media Manager

Christmas is almost upon us, but it’s not always a time of festive cheer between businesses and their customers – especially when it comes down to paying bills.

A Happy Christmas for all?
Customers have a different set of priorities around this time of the year. Many will be concentrating on buying presents and planning festivities, rather than paying a few troublesome bills that can surely wait until next year.
Meanwhile, businesses are hoping for timely payments from their customers, so that they can shut down for Christmas and relax for few days.
Getting paid on time at Christmas means that a business can return after the festive period and start planning for 2017 straight away, rather than wasting time chasing up late payments, resending invoices and casting a nervous glance over the state of their cash flow.
With most of the UK on holiday until 3rd January 2017, countless payments will be delayed – So what’s the answer?

Direct Debits – regular payments all year round
For many businesses, Direct Debits have made late Christmas and New Year payments a thing of the past.
Customers don’t have to remember to pay automated Direct Debits, so even if they’ve got a Christmas party to go to, the payment still gets made in good time! Allowing the Finance Director and CFO to take a well-earned Christmas break, safe in the knowledge that the business is getting paid on time, and in full.
Having said that, there are some points worth bearing in mind when it comes to Direct Debit payments around this time of the year.

Plan ahead with a little help from Bacs
Bacs Payment Schemes Ltd has sent out a timely reminder this year, asking businesses to plan in advance to avoid payment trouble over the Christmas period.
"During the busy festive season it’s easy for delaying payments, however, with a little careful pre-planning, there is no reason why salaries and suppliers cannot be paid on time even with the seasonal bank holidays." — Mike Hutchinson, Director of Scheme Support & Development at Bacs*

For example, if your business is looking to process accounts payable and payroll payments before the Christmas break, then the last date for submission of payments will be: 

Wednesday 21st December 2016.

Download the processing calendar from the Bacs website: Click Here

Get paid on time this Christmas…
Do you struggle with payments around Christmas?  If so, AccessPay may be able to help. Please feel free to give us a call.

If you already get paid by Direct Debits and Christmas payments have never been a problem for your business, we’d also like to hear from you. If you have any tips or advice on getting paid on time, feel free to share your thoughts with our followers on:

Twitter: @Access_Pay and mention #XmasPayments
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Facebook: Follow us on Facebook