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

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Season's Greetings

Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce would like to wish all its members a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Our offices will be closed from the afternoon of December 23rd until January 4th.

The Chamber desk diaries have been sent out to members. If you haven't received a diary by the New Year, please contact Corbin Abraham in our membership team on 0161 233 2614 or email corbin.abraham@gmchamber.co.uk and a copy will be sent to you.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Chamber Reacts To Monetary Policy Minutes

Responding to the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee minutes released today, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “As we expected the Bank voted 7-2 in favour of keeping interest rates at the record low of 0.5%, with Adam Posen arguing that the asset purchase programme should be increased and Andrew Sentance looking to increase the Bank’s rate to 0.75%.

“The Chamber believes that the decision to stick with a rate of 0.5% is the right one at this time to avoid undue stress on business and household finances ahead of the New Year’s tax rises and spending cuts. In our release on the day of the interest rate decision this month we did however warn that due to the current level of inflation the Bank’s attention would start to focus on potential wage increases. Paragraph 23 of the minutes makes it clear that this is on the radar and sustained pay increases could raise medium term inflation."

The Chamber is looking to assess the likelihood of intentions to increase pay and is asking businesses to provide their feedback by clicking here

“The weather outside is frightful……..”


By Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

So, 2010 seems to be going out as it came in with unprecedented snow falls, sub zero temperatures and absolute chaos on the roads, rail and in the air (or the airport terminals at least). Whilst acknowledging the time of year I thought I would give my take on the last 12 months and look ahead to next year with more than a little nod to one of Charles Dickens’ all time classics – no, not “Great Expectations” but “A Christmas Carol”.

First up, Christmas past and this time last year we were seeing some recovery and increased confidence returning across most sectors, construction being the exception with performance sluggish at best. Base rate was 0.5%, VAT was set to increase by 2.5% in the New Year (sounds familiar?). There were 2.49 million unemployed, inflation was 2.9% and the UK had just come out of recession with the latest GDP figures showing some positive growth. The Regional Development Agencies were co-ordinating a huge range of organisations in delivering grant based business development schemes. Banks stood accused of not lending to business and there was much speculation about when the election would be called with all three main parties working on their manifestos.

Second, naturally, Christmas present. Well, base rate is still 0.5% (just), inflation and unemployment are both creeping upwards the former could continue to do so as VAT will increase on 4th January to 20%. Growth is increasing though slowly but business confidence has stalled somewhat with many businesses uncertain about what the next 12 months will hold and trying to assess what impact recent economic policy decisions will have. The biggest change though has been in the political landscape with a coalition government calling the shots albeit with a limited supply of ammunition as economic reality collides with the desire for change and the aspirations set out in both Conservative and Lib Dem pre-election manifestos.

The RDAs have a definite shelf life with a use-by date set at March 2012. Local Enterprise Partnerships will replace them but so many questions still remain as to what impact this will have on the ground. A flurry of activity between the Comprehensive Spending Review in October and the end of the year saw a succession of white papers and consultations that will fundamentally shift important elements of business support and how business will be able to grow. As we close 2010 down many people are still unsure as to what the future will hold.

To help with this and to keep in with the whole “Christmas Carol” theme let’s look into the future and Christmas yet to come.

Well, sorry to disappoint but I’m not one to break the habit of a lifetime by trying to forecast what things will look like in 12 months and give predictions on a whole range of economic data.

What I will say though is that more than ever in uncertain times the Chamber will be there to support you and we will be focussing on several priority areas in 2011 that if delivered will set the right environment and conditions for businesses to grow. Amongst other issues we will be calling for guaranteed delivery of local transport improvements to finally give Greater Manchester the transport system it deserves; we will be calling for changes to be made to make it easier for business to hire staff; we will be looking at how better use can be made of business rates to make sure investment happens in the right way and in the right place and all the while we will be keeping our finger on the economic pulse through the Quarterly Economic Survey now in its 20th year.

We will ask for your opinion and views , we will represent them to the right people and we will make calls for change.

There are, potentially, some great opportunities that lie ahead but we need you to let us know how these can be delivered in the best way, the way that benefits business.

All the very best for Christmas and New Year.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Chamber Reacts To Infrastructure Report

Responding to the Government report by Infrastructure UK that £3 billion could be saved on the costs of infrastructure projects, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said “It is crucial that the Government takes action as a result of this report and reallocates these savings to other projects that can transform regional economies.

"The North of England is in urgent need of infrastructure improvements such as the Northern Hub rail project. Inadequate transport infrastructure in Greater Manchester is choking the economic development of not only the City Region but the entire North of England. Having identified this £3 billion of savings, the Government needs to make a commitment now to the Northern Hub project despite it being in the next control period for funding.
"This project is not simply about commuters, it is also about the movement of goods and services to and from the region. Committing to this project will give businesses the confidence to invest and help revive the fortunes of the region’s construction sector. The £550 million needed for this project has a benefit ratio of four times the investment, unheard of for a project of this kind, and less than the £600 million of savings identified from the Olympic Games alone."

For more information on the report click here





Friday, 17 December 2010

Guest Blog

Gareth Rose of Gresham Wealth Management LLP

The coalition government is to press ahead with a Labour scheme to force all UK firms, regardless of size, to automatically enrol their staff into a pension scheme from 2012. Companies will have to pay in a minimum of 1% of every worker’s salary into a pension, rising to 3% by 2017. Workers will have to pay in a portion of their salary, phased in over five years, starting at 1% of pay and rising to 4% by 2017.

Every employer, large and small, will have to participate, although not the self-employed. It will mean that hundreds of thousands of small firms that currently do not offer or pay into a pension scheme will have to begin making payments. Employers have the option of establishing their own pension scheme that meets the rules or alternatively offering the new government-run pension scheme, called ‘Nest’ (National Employment Savings Trust), which proposes low costs and charges and is set to be administered by Tata.

All employees earning above £7,475 (the personal allowance for income tax from April 2011) will fall into the new rules, with a ‘waiting period’ of three months for new employees.

The main difference between the new and existing rules is the introduction of ‘auto-enrolment’. If an employee chooses to do nothing in regard to pensions, under the new rules, they will be members of the pension scheme and both they and their employer will be obliged to make contributions.

Employers who fail to make payments on behalf of their workers will face sanctions from the Pensions Regulator, which will have the power to fine non-compliant companies. Employees will still have the right to opt out of the pension arrangements, but officials believe that auto-enrollment will mean that many more will start saving than at present.

Gresham Wealth Management LLP are independent financial advisors and experts in the area of corporate pensions. As part of their services they offer a fixed fee corporate pensions review at a discounted rate of £400 for Chamber of Commerce members. For more information please contact them on 0161 927 722, email at info@greshamwm.co.uk or visit their website www.greshamwm.co.uk


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Unemployment Claimant Count Falls

The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in Greater Manchester has fallen again. Last month 71,805 claimed the benefit compared with 72,466 the month before.

Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “Employment in Greater Manchester appears to be bucking the national trend. Nationally the number of unemployed and job seeker’s allowance claimants is up and the number of people in employment has gone down, but in Greater Manchester we are not seeing this.

“The number of job seeker’s allowance claimants has fallen slightly – as we anticipated given the responses to our Quarterly Economic Survey. Manufacturing is making a positive contribution to jobs growth in the region, but this is somewhat subdued.

“Smaller businesses in the service sector have been creating jobs, though larger firms have been reducing headcount so this is the main reason the decrease in the claimant count has been so small, and of course the difficulties for the region’s construction sector roll on with a number of firms ceasing to trade in recent months.

“We believe there is more positive news to come in the New Year, though this will follow an initial increase in claimants during January as seasonal jobs come to an end.”

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Inflation

Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: "Today’s inflation figure, whilst still above the Bank of England’s target has remained fairly stable at 3.3%, a slight increase of 0.1%. Food and clothing were amongst the largest factors causing the rise, which is a result of increased wheat and cotton prices.

"These influences will ease, though the VAT increase in the New Year will add new pressures on inflation and therefore on consumer spending. The inflation figure and higher import prices of raw materials are adding to the growing argument for interest rates rises, though we believe the Bank of England must maintain low interest rates at this time to avoid further pressure on household spending and businesses."

Friday, 10 December 2010

Guest Blog

Andrew Billington of Action Training Services Ltd

How Many First Aiders Do I Need?

Below are the three points you should consider when deciding your First Aid needs:

1. Category of risk

2. Numbers employed at any location

3. Suggested number of first aid personnel

Now follow the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) recommendations listed. These will depend on the risk and nature of your business:

Your guide to carrying out a First Aid Needs Assessment

As you may be aware, the Health and Safety Executive’s (New) First Aid at Work Guidelines came into effect on October 1st 2009. A First Aid Assessment will identify the type of First Aid training your first aiders require and, most importantly, how many first aiders you will need and where they should be located.

You should consider the following topics in a First Aid Needs Assessment:

• The nature of the work, the hazards and risks

• The nature of the workforce

• The organisation’s history of accidents and illness

• The needs of travelling, remote and lone workers

• Work patterns such as shift or night work

• The distribution of the work force

• The available access to emergency medical services

• Employees working on multi-occupied or shared sites

• Annual leave and absences of first aiders

• Where relevant, the organisation’s first aid provision for non-employees.

The Nature of the Work, the hazards and risks.

One of the more complicated areas of the new first aid needs assessment is considering ‘the nature of the work’ and the ‘hazards and risks’. You should consider the risks and identify potential injuries in order to ensure that sufficient first aid provision is provided. The information opposite identifies some common workplace risks and possible injuries (compiled from information supplied by the Health and Safety Executive). Please note the above is not comprehensive and does not cover all risks that could occur in the workplace.

RISK - POSSIBLE INJURIES REQUIRING FIRST AID

Slip and Trip Hazards - Fractures, lacerations, sprains and strains

Manual Handling - Fractures, lacerations, sprains and strains

Machinery - Crush injuries, amputations, fractures, lacerations, eye injuries

Workplace Transport - Crush injuries, amputations, fractures, lacerations, eye injuries

Work at Height - Fractures, sprains and strains, spinal injuries, head injury, loss of consciousness
Electricity - Electric shocks, burns

Chemicals - Poisoning, loss of consciousness, burns, eye injuries.

Please remember that appropriate cover should be made to facilitate any planned staff absences as the legislation applies all the time that an employee is at work i.e. Annual Leave of your first aiders etc.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Interest Rates Held

Commenting on the Bank of England's decision to hold interest rates and maintain the quantitative easing programme at £200 billion, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: "This decision came as no surprise. Growth in emerging economies is driving up commodity prices and combined with a weakened Sterling there is inflationary pressure for producers’ raw material prices and imported goods. This is giving rise to arguments in favour of increasing interest rates, however the Bank should resist as this is the last thing distressed businesses and householders need at this time.

"The recovery remains weak a year on from exiting recession, and as a result the economy still has considerable slack to take up an increase in demand in 2011. This will help suppress domestic pressures on inflation, however the over target inflation we are experiencing must not in turn lead to wage inflation, otherwise the Bank’s hand will be forced."

Friday, 3 December 2010

Friday Guest Blog

John Jones, Finance Partner and Head of Grants Consultancy.

The abolition of the Regional Development Agencies (“RDAs”) and the well-publicised comprehensive spending review is being heralded as the end of SMEs being able to access grant funding. But that’s not quite the whole picture.....

Announcements from the RDAs that they are not currently accepting new grant applications, or processing existing ones is a massive blow, given their significance as a source of funding support for SMEs.

But, contrary to popular belief, there is still grant funding and soft loans out there, from local, national and European sources. Accessing these will now of course be fiercely competitive. Searching and applying for grants has always been perceived as time-consuming, confusing and difficult due to the bureaucracy attached, and that is definitely not going to get easier in the current climate.

However, specialist help is available to guide businesses through the funding maze, and it’s worth considering before committing to any major project as, grants and soft loans can often be the missing piece in the puzzle which enables the project to go ahead.

So, although funding is scarce, it is still worth talking to a grants expert to see what is available. The most successful proposals are generally those where there has been up-front discussion of how best to position the project before submitting the application. Grants specialists have established relationships with the major grant funders, and this, coupled with a track record of successfully applying for grants, could save you time and money in the application process.

There is still grant funding available out there, but one thing’s for certain, unless businesses try to access it then they definitely won’t get their hands on it!

John Jones is Corporate Finance Partner and Head of Grants Consultancy at Beever and Struthers Chartered Accountants. Visit www.beeverstruthers.co.uk for more information.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Impact Of The Snow On Business

Commenting on the disruption caused by the cold weather, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The snowfall across Greater Manchester has caused delays for commuters and school closures.

“Obviously the problems affecting our transport network will have a knock on effect on businesses. But so far we've not seen disruption and absenteeism on the scale we had earlier this year. The cold snap in January saw around 20% of staff absent from work at a cost to the local economy of £26 million a day. That could be repeated if we get snow on a similar scale over the coming days."