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

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Nightmayor Before Christmas?


Chris Fletcher, Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

One of my favourite festive films is Tim Burton’s 1993 stop-motion classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. It tells the story of Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween town , discovering Christmas town and deciding that for a change he’d like to be Santa and give Christmas a unique twist. Completely missing the concept, all manner of chaos ensues with, as an example, children getting vampire teddies in their stockings on Christmas morning. Eventually Santa regains control and normal service is resumed with Jack chastened and a lot wiser after his experience. There are a number of morals and learning points that can be gleaned from this story around keeping the status quo, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it and not upsetting tried, tested and established systems.

It’s required viewing in the Fletcher household.

I just wonder if anyone at the Department for Communities and Local Government currently working on elected mayors has ever watched it?

In the same way that chaos ensued from Jack trying to force a different style and process on an established and effective event so it appears, from the sidelines, that the Government is determined to do the same with pushing forward on proposals for directly elected mayors in England’s 11 largest cities.

At present there is a government consultation on what powers an elected mayor should have and in May 2012 there will be a referendum in Manchester on whether or not the city wants an elected mayor.

Irrespective of the powers a mayor would have – and let’s be honest they will not be of an equivalent level of the Mayor of London - one of the real issues with this is at what geographical level the mayor would operate and who would be able to vote.

As things stand the mayor would just be for Manchester not Greater Manchester. This is potentially important as only 9 months ago the Government set up the Greater Manchester Combined Authority which may not mean a great deal to people but it is the only city region body of its kind, with statutory powers, outside London. At the same time the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership was set up, likewise Transport for Greater Manchester. There’s a theme developing here. So why then would you go and put in the Jack Skellington figure of a Manchester mayor and expect it all still to work in the same way?

When I asked for clarification on this from DCLG a rather baffling response was received that basically said the mayor would just be for Manchester but their influence would extend beyond those boundaries. So, as a resident of another borough in Greater Manchester I would not be able to vote for the mayor but could still be affected by decisions they make. An interesting concept.

There is a huge discussion that still needs to be had outside of the current consultation. There also needs to be a debate on how the business community will benefit from this and how its voice can be represented. It is important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that government is prepared to loosen the grip of centrally controlled powers in Whitehall – look at the recent “City Deals” announcement from Nick Clegg. But if it is going to work in the best way then a wider discussion is needed and we’ll be looking at this in 2012.

The view of the Chamber is that Greater Manchester needs a wider range of strategic powers such as are vested in the Mayor of London so that the economic potential of the region can be achieved. We’ll consult further with our members on what the best vehicle for these powers would be including the existing Combined Authority or a directly elected mayor. However we are convinced that such strategic powers can only be exercised effectively across the City region of Greater Manchester as a whole.

Jack Skellington, Santa and the residents of Halloweentown and Christmastown all lived happily ever after. I just hope that we don’t end up with the vampire teddy.





Friday, 16 December 2011

Friday Guest Blog

Tips For Choosing An International Partner

Ken Primrose, Managing Director of Industrial Tomography Systems

Finding an international partner requires a lot of hard work and diligence, especially when in a niche industry such as the one ITS operates in. Any company should begin by looking at agents/distributors to see if they are suitable, doing thorough research in to the work that they do and who for and finally, implement a rigorous selection process.

It is not necessary – or adviseable – to use a third party in a partnership, who can often distort the communication process and lead to confusion and misleading information.

Finding potential partners can be done through a variety of different means; internet research, conferences, exhibitions, industry associations, sometimes advertisements – depending on the work - and support from groups such as UKTI and the Chamber of Commerce. If using one of these bodies, it is crucial to give a detailed brief about what the company does and is looking for and, regardless of the means in which an organisation finds a potential agent, it is important to manage expectations – how much of the sales process can they undertake and how much support will they need? Look for partners who have the right resources, contacts, customer base and capability and above all, who understand the industry the organisation works in.

Approaching a potential agent can be a time consuming, drawn out process, so it is important to be patient and expect that the process from targeting to negotiation to appointment can take far longer than expected. Do not jump at the first positive interest – it is better to take longer and appoint the right partner than to waste both time and effort on the wrong one.

Choosing a larger distributor is beneficial in that they often have more resources and coverage, however it can be disadvantageous if they are too large to dedicate enough time to your company. It can be better to be a larger contributor to a smaller company rather than a less significant contributor to a smaller one.

Always request – and take up – references before deciding on a partner, but do your own research also. Trade bodies can be an endorsement through membership, but should not be relied upon soley as a reference point.

Finally, remember that partnerships only work if both parties feel that they are getting the results. Make sure any appointed agent knows what the company’s targets and expectations are and that they regularly communicate back with accurate data. Be careful with the intial agreement and any legal issues – sometimes it will inevitably go wrong and a well-drawn up agreement will ensure that there is a legal get out clause should targets not be met and results achieved.

World leader in process tomography, Industrial Tomography Systems (http://www.itoms.com/), started life as an incubator company, bringing technologies developed at UMIST to market. ITS has now commercialised the technology so successfully that it trades in companies as far afield as Brazil and the US and boasts an impressive client list including household names such as GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever and DuPont.



Thursday, 15 December 2011

First Aid App Is Free


St John Ambulance has announced its first aid iPhone app is now free to download. The app which gives users advice on how to treat a range of emergencies, as well as minor injuries, has proven to be the difference between life and death.

Launched last year, the ‘St John Ambulance First Aid’ app became an instant success and was the UK’s best selling health and fitness app. It has now been downloaded by nearly 43,000 people – and the charity has learnt that it has already saved a life, when a mother got in touch to say she was able to give first aid to her choking baby, thanks to the app.

As winter approaches, the app gives useful advice on how to deal with effects of the cold, such as hypothermia and frostbite. It also demonstrates how to cope with emergencies such as choking or heart attacks. The charity is urging iPhone users to download the app so they have the first aid information they need to save a life or provide support while waiting for help to arrive, particularly important during winter months when ambulance waiting times may be longer.

With easily accessible step-by-step information, an intuitive interface and voice prompts for several first aid techniques, the free app is something every iPhone, iPod touch or iPad user should have.

Sue Killen, CEO, St John Ambulance, said: "We' like to thank the thousands of people who have already downloaded the app and made it possible for us to now make it free. I hope that even more people will download it now. Up to 150,000 people die in situations where first aid could have given them the chance to live and we are determined to change this. Being armed with the app could help you be the difference between a life lost and a life saved."

The app is now free to download from the Apple App Store and the charity hopes to develop a multiplatform app in 2012. For further information about St John Ambulance’s first aid and health and safety courses in the North West call 0844 770 4800 or visit sja.org.uk/training Chamber of Commerce members are entitled to a 10% discount off all St John Ambulance’s business courses in the North West (terms and conditions apply).


Friday, 26 August 2011

Guest Blog

Investing In Inflationary Times

Stephen Samuels of Samuels Financial

Inflation can cause havoc for your personal finances as it erodes the real value of our money over time. Not surprisingly, research shows that as many as nine out of 10 people are worried about the effects it can have on their money (Source: Post Office Savings, June 2011). Inflation may have dipped slightly in June, but it is significantly above the 2 per cent target set by the Bank of England. It could yet rise above the 5 per cent barrier once the widely anticipated energy price hikes are taken into account later in the year.

If inflation ran at the Bank of England’s intended target of 2 per cent, the sum of £100,000 would be worth £67,297 in real terms 20 years later. At 4 per cent the real value would drop to £45,639, while at 5 per cent the original sum of £100,000 would be worth just £37,689 in 20 years’ time.

In short, savers and investors need to have their wits about them if their money is to keep pace with inflation. But that is easier said than done, particularly given the wide disparity between inflation and interest rates.

Basic rate taxpayers need to earn interest of 5.25 per cent on their savings in order to make a real return on their money once CPI inflation is taken into account. Higher rate taxpayers are in an even worse position, needing returns of 7 per cent to stop the value of their deposits being shrunk by inflation. But with interest rates at rock-bottom levels, accounts paying such high rates are very few and far between.

In inflationary times, when the real value of level income payments is eroded over a few years, it is important to find good and increasing sources of investment income.

This is the big dilemma for many savers today. Not unreasonably, they do not want to lose a penny of their hard-earned cash. But with increasing life expectancy and potential long-term care costs to consider, they will need their money to work harder for longer – and this is likely to mean taking on more risk.



The question is where to start?

In the current inflationary environment the yields from gilts in real terms offer few attractions – a challenge for the government of course, because it continues to have a large funding requirement. Opportunities for attractive income still exist in the corporate bond market, however investors are having to be increasingly selective. Certain investment-grade bonds offer competitive yields and lower risk, while the ‘high quality end’ of the high yield – or non-investment-grade – market continues to present income seekers with some options.

The key for investors is to hold a portfolio of funds which offers the flexibility to exploit the selective income opportunities from across the corporate bond spectrum.

One of the most efficient ways to beat inflation over the longer term is to invest in the stock market and take advantage of the dividends paid by companies. After a couple of leaner years in the teeth of the recession, the earnings of UK companies are looking far more healthy. On the back of those profits the outlook for dividends is more positive. History shows that returns on equities can beat inflation and dividends can play an important part in this. According to the Barclays Capital 2011 Equity Gilt Study, £100 invested in equities at the end of 1899 would be worth just £180 in real terms today without the reinvestment of dividend income; with reinvestment, the same portfolio would have grown to £24,133.

Diversification is also key in balancing risk and returns. For instance, commodities (such as those linked to food inflation) might be able to play a role in a balanced portfolio, so it is worth seeking out funds which invest in so-called ‘alternative assets’. Another income producing asset, commercial property is also beginning to attract attention again. Returns are up 9.1 per cent over the 12 months to the end of June (Source: IPD UK Monthly Property Index Results, June 2011). Again, history suggests that commercial property has a place in a portfolio and its long-term track record is strong, while it offers diversification from equities.

Inflation also brings particular problems for people about to retire because even a low level of inflation will seriously dent pensioners’ fixed incomes over a number of years. Anyone buying an income for life with their pension pot might assume that an annuity linked to inflation via the retail prices index (RPI) is the solution – these pay less income in the early years of retirement than a standard annuity, but eventually catch up and end up paying more later on.

But the decision is far from straightforward. How well RPI-linked annuities perform compared with “level’’ annuities depends on what happens to inflation, and you may have to live a long time after you retire for you to be “in the money”. This is why it is crucial to get advice on the once in a lifetime decision about buying an annuity – once the decision is made, there is no going back.

Inflation and uncertainty go hand in hand, but it is even more marked given the current economic turmoil. It is why investors are going to have to explore all the options to make the most from their savings and investment – and maybe taking a step up the risk ladder.

To receive a complimentary brochure covering Financial Planning, Pensions, Protection and Inheritance Tax Planning, contact Stephen Samuels of Samuels Financial on 0161 773 5777, email info@samuelsfinancial.co.uk or visit www.samuelsfinancial.co.uk



Guest Blog

Howard Hunter, Managing Director of Bakestone

'Lunch is for wimps' was the catchphrase of eighties ambition, but it's definitely breakfast that’s become the meal to miss as people plunge headfirst into another manic day.


As the owner of a bakery, part of my job is to keep aware of trends in how people eat to keep us ahead of the competition. What we’ve noticed is that the seismic shift from sitting down for a cooked breakfast to grabbing a slice of toast on the hoof has now moved to the stage where most professionals skip breakfast altogether and power through, gradually flagging until lunch time.


However, I’m sure you probably don't need telling this, as many of you will recognise exactly what I’m talking about (you know who you are!).


Whilst part of this is symptomatic of the fact that we simply have less time nowadays, I want to fight the cause of the British Breakfast and argue that it will actually make you more successful. Your mum didn’t call it the most important meal of the day for nothing!


It’s long been proved that eating breakfast will give you more energy and reduce hunger throughout the day. Who can forget the horror of the rumbling stomach in that important business meeting?


But there’s a more sinister impact in that having an empty stomach is linked to a dramatic loss in concentration, making those who miss their breakfast munch significantly less on the ball at work. Yes, your work performance could be suffering because of losing out on breakfast!


Not only that, but isn’t it a better way to start the working day sat eating a bowl of porridge, some hot buttered toast or a bacon buttie than legging it out to the train and braving out the hunger pangs till lunch?


So to summarise, breakfast makes business sense! Bring it back into your day and see how much more you achieve. I’ll even send a free loaf to anyone who emails me who pledges to give it a go.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Guest Blog

Investing In Inflationary Times

Francis Monteiro Dip PFS, Partner at St. James’s Place Wealth Management

Inflation can cause havoc for your personal finances as it erodes the real value of our money over time. Not surprisingly, research shows that as many as nine out of 10 people are worried about the effects it can have on their money (Source: Post Office Savings, June 2011). Inflation may have dipped slightly in June, but it is significantly above the 2 per cent target set by the Bank of England. It could yet rise above the 5 per cent barrier once the widely anticipated energy price hikes are taken into account later in the year.

If inflation ran at the Bank of England’s intended target of 2 per cent, the sum of £100,000 would be worth £67,297 in real terms 20 years later. At 4 per cent the real value would drop to £45,639, while at 5 per cent the original sum of £100,000 would be worth just £37,689 in 20 years’ time.

In short, savers and investors need to have their wits about them if their money is to keep pace with inflation. But that is easier said than done, particularly given the wide disparity between inflation and interest rates.

Basic rate taxpayers need to earn interest of 5.25 per cent on their savings in order to make a real return on their money once CPI inflation is taken into account. Higher rate taxpayers are in an even worse position, needing returns of 7 per cent to stop the value of their deposits being shrunk by inflation. But with interest rates at rock-bottom levels, accounts paying such high rates are very few and far between.

In inflationary times, when the real value of level income payments is eroded over a few years, it is important to find good and increasing sources of investment income.

This is the big dilemma for many savers today. Not unreasonably, they do not want to lose a penny of their hard-earned cash. But with increasing life expectancy and potential long-term care costs to consider, they will need their money to work harder for longer – and this is likely to mean taking on more risk.

The question is where to start?

In the current inflationary environment the yields from gilts in real terms offer few attractions – a challenge for the government of course, because it continues to have a large funding requirement. Opportunities for attractive income still exist in the corporate bond market, however investors are having to be increasingly selective. Certain investment-grade bonds offer competitive yields and lower risk, while the ‘high quality end’ of the high yield – or non-investment-grade – market continues to present income seekers with some options.

The key for investors is to hold a portfolio of funds which offers the flexibility to exploit the selective income opportunities from across the corporate bond spectrum.

One of the most efficient ways to beat inflation over the longer term is to invest in the stock market and take advantage of the dividends paid by companies. After a couple of leaner years in the teeth of the recession, the earnings of UK companies are looking far more healthy. On the back of those profits the outlook for dividends is more positive. History shows that returns on equities can beat inflation and dividends can play an important part in this. According to the Barclays Capital 2011 Equity Gilt Study, £100 invested in equities at the end of 1899 would be worth just £180 in real terms today without the reinvestment of dividend income; with reinvestment, the same portfolio would have grown to £24,133.

Diversification is also key in balancing risk and returns. For instance, commodities (such as those linked to food inflation) might be able to play a role in a balanced portfolio, so it is worth seeking out funds which invest in so-called ‘alternative assets’. Another income producing asset, commercial property is also beginning to attract attention again. Returns are up 9.1 per cent over the 12 months to the end of June (Source: IPD UK Monthly Property Index Results, June 2011). Again, history suggests that commercial property has a place in a portfolio and its long-term track record is strong, while it offers diversification from equities.

Inflation also brings particular problems for people about to retire because even a low level of inflation will seriously dent pensioners’ fixed incomes over a number of years. Anyone buying an income for life with their pension pot might assume that an annuity linked to inflation via the retail prices index (RPI) is the solution – these pay less income in the early years of retirement than a standard annuity, but eventually catch up and end up paying more later on.

But the decision is far from straightforward. How well RPI-linked annuities perform compared with “level’’ annuities depends on what happens to inflation, and you may have to live a long time after you retire for you to be “in the money”. This is why it is crucial to get advice on the once in a lifetime decision about buying an annuity – once the decision is made, there is no going back.

Inflation and uncertainty go hand in hand, but it is even more marked given the current economic turmoil. It is why investors are going to have to explore all the options to make the most from their savings and investment – and maybe taking a step up the risk ladder.

To receive a complimentary guide covering Wealth Management, Retirement Planning or Inheritance Tax Planning, produced by St. James’s Place Wealth Management, contact Francis Monteiro, Sunlight House, Quay Street, Manchester M3 3LF 0161-834-9480 or 07710 110436 www.sjpp.co.uk/acorn


Friday, 29 July 2011

Guest Blog

Alex Swift, Regional Director at St John Ambulance in the North West



Provisional figures released by the HSE recently show a worrying increase in the number of fatal accidents in the North West. In 2010/11 there were 23* fatal accidents in the region, a 35% rise on the 2009/10 figures. The region also has the highest average of fatal accidents based on figures for the past five years.


It is worrying to see that the number of workplace deaths has risen in the region. This should be a stark reminder to all employers not to let health and safety slip down their list of priorities. The planned reduction in HSE inspection should not be interpreted as a reason to lose focus on workplace safety. It’s vital that all employers make the necessary efforts to ensure their health and safety provision is up-to-scratch, covering risk management and prevention, as well as having the skills and equipment in place to respond when an accident does occur. If not they face severe consequences.


First aid training for example is far too often seen as a regulatory tick box by employers, rather than a necessary life skill, but it does save lives. We know that up to 150,000 people die in situations where first aid could have given them the chance to live. With some 59% of people wanting first aid training in the workplace, businesses have the perfect opportunity to help reduce this figure before the progress made in previous years is lost and more unnecessary workplace deaths occur.


St John Ambulance has 24 training venues across the North West and can also deliver a range of courses in first aid and health and safety in the workplace. Chamber of Commerce members are entitled to a 10% discount off all St John Ambulance commercial courses in the North West. Call 0844 770 4800 or visit www.sja.org.uk/training





Monday, 25 July 2011

Guest Blog

The Bribery Act 2010- Is your Business ready?

Aarti Bedi, an Associate Solicitor in the Employment Team at the Old Trafford based Colemans-ctts LLP.


The Bribery Act 2010 will come into force on 1st July 2011. It has wide ranging and serious implications for all businesses, large or small. This Act creates new offences for offering or receiving a bribe, for bribery of foreign public officials and of a failure to prevent a bribe being paid on an organisation’s behalf.

Businesses will now have to turn their thoughts to how best they can comply with the new legislation to avoid being faced with claims. Here are a few key points to bear in mind:


• There is no need to put bribery prevention procedures in place if there is no risk of bribery on your behalf
• There is no offence of failing to prevent bribery if you can show that your organisation had ‘adequate procedures’ in place to prevent bribery.
• There is no need to extensively amend your handbooks, provided that you have been managing your business with sensible employment contracts and processes.
• Corporate hospitality, if genuine, will not be prohibited as long as the activity is reasonable, proportionate and made in good faith.
• Be aware that facilitation payments (in other words, payments made to officials to facilitate a business transaction) are not permitted and are considered bribes.
Individuals convicted of any of these new offences could face a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment. Convicted businesses will be liable to an unlimited fine for failure to prevent bribery.

For more guidance on the Bribery Act see http://www.justice.gov.uk/

If you believe your business might be susceptible to activities involving bribery then we recommend that you undertake a risk assessment. Only then will you be able to identify the “adequate procedures” required to protect your organisation in the face of this new legislation.
For assistance in implementing the provisions in your business or guarding against a claim, please contact Aarti Bedi on 0161 876 2502 or aarti.bedi@colemans-ctts.co.uk




Friday, 15 July 2011

Friday Guest Blog

Clive Drinkwater, Regional Director for UK Trade and Investment in the North West

I was sent one of those picture texts this week by a friend who had been invited to a Royal Garden Party. He was outside the gates of Buckingham Palace resplendent in his morning suit and his wife in a beautiful outfit befitting such a special occasion. It got me thinking about how much hard work the Royal Family does on our behalf and reminded me that the winners of the Queen’s Awards for 2011 were in fact being invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace this very week.

The Queen’s Awards began in 1966 and winners are announced every year on Her Majesty’s birthday, April 21 and recognise outstanding companies in international trade, innovation and sustainable development. To be considered for the International Trade award, companies have to have seen uninterrupted growth in exports for over three years and, given the difficult economic conditions that prevailed at that time it is a particularly difficult measure to have achieved. Nevertheless, seven North West companies were successful in winning the awards and I hope that those that are able to make it to Buckingham Place enjoy their day.

I was looking at what it was, in addition to export sales growth, that the firms had in common. They range from the University of Manchester with nearly 10,000 employees to Genesys International Limited in Cheshire with only 11 staff. Macuk Neuroscience Ltd of Blackpool only began trading in 2003 but RS Clare in Liverpool is the UK’s oldest manufacturing company, having been established in 1748.

Size clearly doesn’t matter; neither does age. I think you start to get a clue when you look at Barrett Dixon Bell Ltd of Cheshire, James Halstead plc and Rayburn Trading Co, both of Manchester as well as the big and small, old and young I’ve already outlined. I lost count of the number of times that I read the words innovation or innovate in their citations. Spending on R&D or innovation in the way that the firms deliver their products and services, coupled with an attitude that is hard to describe but which, if you could bottle it, would be a world beating product on its own, inevitably lead to the sort of award winning growth in exports that these companies have all spectacularly achieved.

I’ve issued a major challenge to the North West region to dramatically grow the number of exporting companies it has. We will begin that process soon by challenging our partners to identify potential exporters, working with the Chambers of Commerce to put in place a mentoring scheme to help new exporters through the tricky first few steps. We are also planning a major event in the New Year to kick it all off. I know that there are lots of SMEs out there that have fantastic products and services that could be successful in world markets and I know that the North West will rise to meet the challenge. The potential rewards are reflected in those Queen’s Award winning companies that will be at Buckingham Place this week. Good luck to them. I hope they will soon be joined by many more - find out more on businesslink.gov if you want to be in the running for 2012.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Launch Of 'Yes To Apprenticeships'

The Launch of ‘Yes to Apprenticeships’


By Heather Green, Director of Apprenticeships, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

I am really excited about today’s launch of the ‘Yes to Apprenticeship’ campaign. Our mission is to get even more Greater Manchester employers understanding the business benefits of apprenticeship recruitment and for them to join us in saying ‘Yes to Apprenticeships’ by pledging a vacancy in their company for one of this summer’s school or college leavers.

We are generating a record level of interest from employers and we already have well over 100 companies which have joined the campaign to ensure that they don’t miss out in securing the best young talent that Greater Manchester has to offer....but we are not stopping there as we need even more.

This year more school and college leavers than ever before are choosing to do an Apprenticeship in their chosen field. We already have over 2,000 pre-assessed and enthusiastic candidates on our books who want to start working, gain real skills and experience as well as work towards a nationally recognised qualification but we need the support of GM employers to make this happen.

Today’s school and college leavers are the future stars of tomorrow, potential business leaders for Greater Manchester and they need their time to shine. We’re excited and proud that ‘Yes to Apprenticeships’ will give them this.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Friday Guest Blog



Richard Lloyd-Hughes, Sales & Operations Manager, and Charlotte Morris, Operations & Marketing Assistant, at The Gentry Grooming Co share an insight into the male grooming industry.

Here at The Gentry Grooming Co, we have a passion for ‘Putting the GREAT into British Grooming’ and the terms ‘Great’ and ‘British’ are incredibly important to us. We pride ourselves on our brand that was born in Britain; everything from our packaging to our ingredients has been manufactured and sourced in Britain. Our brand is all about being the experts in male grooming; this is implemented by a small but strong Head Office team which is the core to the franchises and Express Shave & Skin Centres. We have industry trained staff in all of our salons and Express Shave & Skin Centres and are continually developing their skills to match the ever-changing male grooming industry.

The newest addition to our Head Office team, Lynne Taylor, brings a wealth of experience from the airline industry. Lynne has been particularly insightful most recently with our upcoming event next week.
Due to the great success of our gift set in the Jet 2 in-flight retail, we will be attending the Airline Retail Conference in London to secure more contracts with other airlines. About 50 airlines will be attending, including the biggest names in the industry such as Tourvest and Scorpio. During the two day-long conference we will be showcasing the brand by introducing our gift sets and products to the airlines. Our success with Jet 2 has already sparked huge interest with buyers from other sales channels, so we are looking forward to the opportunities ARC will bring us.

As well as in-flight retail, we are constantly working towards new leads with more sales channels. We currently have an Express Shave & Skin Centre in two House of Fraser stores; in Glasgow and Manchester; and we are looking to retail our product range in other House of Fraser stores around the country by the end of the year. We are also working hard to secure space for our product range with other favourite high street retailers.

At such an evolving time in the business, we believe in the importance of our customers’ views. We want your ideas! We are open-minded and believe in one-on-one feedback as we always reply to every email and phone call in the best way that we can. Our customers are very important to us and we are always more than happy to hear your feedback on new product developments or ideas about new services that you would like to see on offer. We also like to build momentum and keep in touch with our customers via social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and E-Shots.

As part of our ongoing development strategy, we will open new franchised sites over the coming months. We would love to hear from interested partners. We have a proven business model and offer industry leading training support.

Look out for our upcoming editorial piece in the September issue of the 53 Degrees Magazine.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Friday Guest Blog

Andrea Wilson-Brown, Managing Director of BCH Digital discusses the benefits of hosted telecoms solutions and how the latest developments in telecoms, such as Pay-Tel are not only affordable for businesses of all sizes, but can put them on a level playing field with blue chip companies.


Hosted telecoms solutions have been around for a while, whilst the term ‘Cloud Technology’ is a relatively recent one they are essentially the same – web based solutions that offer economies of scale and allow for the latest technologies to be deployed instantly, without the need for investment in hardware and infrastructure.


We’ve worked with many blue-chip companies over the years, creating bespoke solutions such as customer service lines, surveys and charity donation lines amongst others. The benefits of hosted telecoms have long been known by such companies; adaptability, level of control, speed of set-up, ease of use, lack of heavy financial outlay and flexibility of service, but with the rise in ‘Cloud Technologies’ more and more businesses are becoming aware of the benefits of hosted telecoms.


Developments in hosted telecoms services, such as our recently launched Pay-Tel, give SME’s access to the same level of security, technology and quality of service, usually only affordable to large and blue-chip companies.


Pay-Tel is a hosted PCI compliant solution for taking payment over the phone. To combat credit and debit card fraud, the Payment Card Industry (set-up the by the likes of Visa and American Express) introduced a set of regulations to ensure the security and protection of private data when processing payments. These recently updated regulations are due to come into force in December this year, however meeting these regulations can prove costly if it means replacing or updating in-house infrastructure such as servers and hardware. Unfortunately not doing so can prove even more costly, with fines of up to £300, 000 and the untold damage to reputation should non-compliance lead to loss of private data or security breaches.

Pay-Tel is simple to set-up and use and rather than investing in new infrastructure, users can rely on the incredibly secure and reliable BCH servers to meet the PCI regulations, meaning businesses of all sizes now have an affordable solution to PCI compliance.


This is just one example of how hosted telecoms can help SME’s offer the same level of service as blue-chip companies, but whether it’s for sales, marketing or even debt collection, when it comes to the cloud and developing hosted telecoms solutions there are all sorts of possibilities.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Your Chamber Needs You!

British Chambers of Commerce has committed to a campaign for a simplified, faster planning system.

While we have significant anecdotal evidence of the problems developers and businesses face, we need to explore these in more depth and gather greater member feedback to make an impact with our lobbying activities. Part of this work will involve a national survey asking for views and opinions on the planning system.

In order to assist with this work, we are offering to host a policy forum with British Chambers to help identify member concerns and to have a wider policy debate. This will take place at 11.00am on Wednesday 15 June in the Council Chamber, Churchgate House, Oxford Street, Manchester.

We need 10 to 15 people to make this work, so if this is of interest to you please email richard.critchley@gmchamber.co.uk


If you are unable to attend but know of other interested businesses, please feel free to forward them this information.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday Guest Blog

Ken Primrose, Managing Director of Industrial Tomography Systems, shares his tips for successfully commercialising a new technology.

Industrial Tomography Systems (www.itoms.com), started life as an incubator company, bringing technologies developed at UMIST to market. ITS has now commercialised the technology so successfully that it trades with companies as far afield as Brazil and the US and boasts an impressive client list including household names such as GlaxoSmithKline, Nestle and Procter & Gamble.


Bringing a new technology to market relies upon a strategic plan and well-targeted research. It is crucial to scope potential markets and test your product offering so you identify exactly where your technology will slot in and what it will add to each market sector targeted. Finding the technology’s unique selling point and positioning it well will be of pivotal importance. A clear understanding of price, margin, volume and timing is also essential.

A business’ sales team are the ones who will ultimately sell the product so it is essential that the sales force is well briefed and knowledgeable with regard to the technology and its applications and critically its potential benefits. An ability to clearly explain the technology in straightforward terms and demonstrate how it will benefit potential client companies is highly important when attracting customers to a new product.

Having all of the relevant accreditations, patents and licences prior to releasing the product to market will not only save time, but reassure potential customers that it is a product that they can trust. However these take time and money, so you should be confident that you are addressing the right segments before investing in areas which may take a long time to pay back. Equally, a strong company reputation will work in your favour – build up a target database of relevant potential customers with which you already have a favourable reputation. This will immediately strengthen your pitch and encourage customers to immediately consider investing in the new technology, based on the company name alone.

A similar way in which to attract confidence in your product is to have the full backing of research centres and well-respected names within the sector in which the new technology will feature. Favourable recognition from well known and renowned names within the field will further strengthen the brand.

Naturally, before embarking upon any of the above, it is essential to seek out the right engineering skills. Finding the right engineering talent in the UK is getting more difficult as the Government culls visas from non-EU nationals. Although this will open up the door to British students, it will be up to 10 years before ripe talent filters through.

Commercialising a new technology can be extremely rewarding both personally, professionally and financially, however it is important to have the have confidence in the talent at your disposal, research and funding when you set off.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday Guest Blog: Retirement Apathy Will Cost You Dearly



By Stephen Samuels, Principal of Samuels Financial

"There is much to be said for living for the moment and, for people coping with the economic downturn, getting through the week is understandably the major consideration. Yet many people risk a life of poverty in retirement because they are significantly underfunding their retirement savings.

We are all expected to live longer and there is a good chance that many of us will live almost a third of our lives in retirement so you would do well not to underestimate the size of the retirement fund you will need to live comfortably.

A pension fund of £200,000 may sound a decent sum, but today that will buy you an annual income of a little more than £10,000, which is why you need to get to grips with your retirement plans long before you pick up your gold watch. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to catch up on missed time.

The difference between starting at 25 and starting at 45 is staggering. It can be even worse for women - they live longer than men on average and many will take career breaks to have children, leaving gaps in their contributions.

A 25 year-old male who wants to retire on £20,000 a year when he gets to 65, will have to put aside £501 a month for the next 40 years. If he waits until he is 35, he would have to save £788 a month to retire on £20,000 a year. The monthly sum will rise to more than £1,300 a month, if the same man delayed saving until he was in his mid-forties (Source: Standard Life, March 2011), so it is important to start your retirement planning early.

People should seriously consider joining their company scheme, particularly if the employer is contributing to the fund as well or if it is based on final salary. Remember that an employer contribution to a pension is effectively deferred salary, so failure to join a company scheme is akin to taking a pay cut.

Yet, surprisingly, many people turn down this ‘free money’. In an experiment by Axa in 2005, tracking the lives of people in Brighton, it found that a number of people did not bother to join their company scheme even if their employer made a contribution.

However, if your employer offers a defined contribution pension scheme, rather than a final salary pension scheme (also known as a defined benefit scheme) the plan alone may not be sufficient for your needs.

Employers tend to contribute far less to defined contribution schemes than they typically used to put into final-salary schemes, so a total employer and employee contribution of say 13 per cent is likely to be insufficient to fund your entire income in retirement.

Increasing your retirement provision through AVCs (or additional voluntary contributions) or Personal Pension Plans is a highly tax-efficient way of boosting retirement provision and it is worth seeking advice on maximizing this opportunity to meet your personal goals. Even if your employer doesn’t make contributions, having a fixed sum transferred from your salary each month is a pain-free way to start the savings habit.

Retirement planning is not just about investing into a pension – Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) can come into the mix, for instance. Indeed, younger workers who expect to be higher-rate taxpayers later in their career could consider saving via an ISA first and then moving those savings into a pension when they become higher-rate taxpayers to benefit from the higher tax relief.

It should be noted that the levels and bases of taxation and reliefs from taxation can change at any time as they are subject to changes in legislation. The value of any tax reliefs depends on individual circumstances.

As you get older and move into your forties and fifties, you need to work out whether the plans you had in place are on track. Firstly, establish what your likely state pension entitlement would be. You should also contact the pension trustees of your current and previous employers, who will be able to provide pension forecasts, as will the companies managing any private pension plans.

Given the volatility of stock markets there is a chance that what you are currently on target to receive is less than you’d ideally like, or perhaps even need. It makes sense to seek advice about how you can bridge this gap. You might need to consider whether options such as retiring later or working part-time beyond your retirement date may be a more realistic way of meeting your retirement goals.

As you get even closer to your chosen retirement age, you may need to consider reducing the risk of your investments to protect the fund you have built up over the years. Many experts suggest that this risk reduction should start at least five years before you wave goodbye to the working world for good.

Retirement planning may not be the hot topic of conversation at dinner parties and social gatherings but that does not mean it should be ignored. Planning ahead and getting your strategies in place early will mean that your dreams of a happy retirement have a greater chance of coming to fruition. Failure to act will mean that they are nothing but pipe dreams."

http://www.samuelsfinancial.co.uk/

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Inflation Rises

Commenting on today’s inflation figures from the Office of National Statistics, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “As we warned last month the fall in the consumer prices index to 4.0% was only temporary, caused by the later timing of Easter this year compared to last. With inflation now rising sharply to 4.5% and with consumers already lacking confidence to commit to those big ticket purchases the effect will ripple through the economy over the coming months, inevitably reducing demand and suppressing job creation in the private sector.

“We are in a low growth environment and trading will be difficult in the domestic economy for some time to come so we must focus on promoting exports. In our opinion an interest rate rise at this time would be very damaging to the domestic economy, although inevitably this release will increase pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates; though we suggest that the Bank remains focused on supporting domestic growth.”

Monday, 16 May 2011

Who Cares?



By Chris Fletcher - Director of Policy, Research & External Affairs & Deputy Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Last week the BBC released the results of a survey looking at how spending on social care will be impacted following the cuts announced in the Government’s spending review.

The survey found that adult social care spending in the North will fall by an estimated 4.7%, whilst in the South it will rise by 2.7%.

That wasn’t the total picture, however, as only about two thirds of all Councils responded and due to some of the complexities around funding allocations, some of the figures were “skewed”. In response, the Government has acknowledged that reform of the system is needed to ensure continuing affordable and sustainable funding for care and support for all adults in the future.

So, what has this got to do with business?

My response: A lot more than you’d think.

I recently attended a meeting of the Chamber’s Care Sector Council made up of Chamber members representing the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester who all run care or residential homes. Whilst there are a number of different types of home and care provision, they all shared one thing in common…….they were all businesses.

They employ staff, they have to watch their costs, battle against increasing energy bills and get to grips with there not just being less money in the system, but some fundamental changes to the system itself. Oh, and also look after those people they have been trusted to care for.

Martin Clark, the Chair of the Sector Council, sums up the issue succinctly: “Within the ten Greater Manchester Councils, all appear to be making cuts to the Adult and Social Care budgets, as well as raising eligibility criteria and increasing charges to customers to use services.

“Independent and voluntary care providers are being told there is no money available to increase the amounts they are given to provide care, even though they face inflationary increases in their operational costs, and an increase in dependency of the people they care for. Some providers have had to fight to even sustain their previous funding with Council officials asking them to accept cuts in their funding, whilst still acknowledging that the costs to provide care have gone up.”

That, I suppose, is the real challenge with this sector – people just assume that all they do is “look after old people” totally oblivious that they feel the strain of economic issues and changes in government policy like any other business, sometimes even more so.

Whilst I’m no expert in care and admire anyone working in this sector, what I can do and what I can make sure the Chamber does, is start to put things on an equal footing so that this important sector gets recognised and treated as it should. Faced with ever increasing financial cuts and rising prices, they cannot as easily expand as other businesses, so they really do have to watch every penny. The landscape that the sector operates in is changing and coming under real scrutiny from both central and local government. At times it must feel like they are in a vice.

So who cares? Well there are a number of people that care passionately and face every day, 24/7, not just the battles that all businesses face, but also the extra pressures of looking after residents or people in need. In uncertain times, they have to offer a sure service.

I think that’s something we should all care about.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Guest Blog

Improving your Business “Postbox” Process

Dave Robert Fricker – Managing Director of Daviker TotalWorkFlow


We work with many businesses who have taken the time and effort to put processes in place, but then never really get the opportunity to look at if the process could be improved upon or if it is being followed properly. Monitoring and managing existing processes within a business can be a very quick and simple way of increasing efficiencies and productivity throughout your business.

We find that many businesses deploy what we have termed ‘post box processes’. Bear with me here, but many companies we work with treat their processes like they treat their post! We all know that if we place our letter in an envelope, write down clear instructions for the staff, then stick it in a Post Box it will eventually 99 times in 100 work out well and our ‘process’ will get delivered. What we don’t know is could the process be improved from the ‘Postbox’ to the delivery. It is clear the processes are working, but could the service be faster, cheaper or better? In some cases we only know there are problems when post goes missing and customers become dissatisfied. Could you be losing out on the chance to improve your bottom line even more?


On occasions, businesses large and small will experience common problems within their processes. These include poor prioritisation of tasks, human errors and job role ambiguity which can result in missed deadlines and inconsistent service. However, if these issues occur more frequently in a short space of time, it can result in fewer repeat business orders, drop in revenues, low staff morale and poor retention of personnel. The net result - a successful enterprise turns into a poor one, even with all these wonderful processes.


Fear not, as there are various products on the market that can assist with developing your business processes, one example is workflow software.


Workflow software enables you to break down large processes into smaller manageable tasks. The software consistently manages these tasks and processes ensuring your staff get right tasks completed in the correct order. Workflow programs gives you the power to make key management decisions based the real-time data provided.

There is a school of thought within small to medium business community that such bespoke workflow software is costly to install and hard to manage, but there are now products including TotalWorkFlow out there that are targeted just to the SME market, which can bring the costs down considerably.


Remember, we all know post will get there eventually but could your business do with upgrading from 2nd class post to 1st class processes.

Members of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce are entitled to a six-month free trail of TotalWorkFlow. If you are interested in finding out more about TotalWorkFlow and how it can help your business, call 0845 250 80 70 or e-mail info@totalworkflow.co.uk







Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Latest Trade Figures

Commenting on the trade figures for March published today by the ONS, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The trade figures for March indicate a widening of the trade deficit and a decline in exports, which is disappointing. However with recent global events it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that these export figures are evidence of slowdown and recent levels of exports have after all been at record levels.

“Yes, they should have been stronger, but we are making progress with exports to non-EU countries at a record level on a three-month measure. The deficit with these countries has widened and more should be done to promote the opportunities in these markets to our exporters and ensuring they can compete on equitable terms in areas such as trade finance and insurance is vital.”

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Interest Rates Held

Interest rates have been held at the historic low of 0.5%.



Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business & Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is likely that global events of recent months, that have increased uncertainty over the economic outlook, have been a major factor in the Bank of England’s decision to hold interest rates at the record low of 0.5%. The strength of our recovery remains weak and recent data suggests that growth has been flat over the last two quarters.

“As a result it is imperative that private sector businesses are supported by this expansionary, low interest rate stance for a while longer. The Bank’s decision is the right thing to do and we said in February that it would do more harm than good if it increased in May as many anticipated.

“Talk that the Monetary Policy Committee will lose credibility by not tackling inflation ignores the wider brief that the committee is also bound by the Bank of England Act 1998 to support Government objectives for growth and employment. Global events will have eased inflationary concerns allowing the Bank to take this decision today, but that said we must not be complacent as we cannot rely on factors beyond our control acting in our favour over the longer term.”

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Leading Voice

Clive Memmott, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce


Over the past week I have represented the Chamber at a wide range of national, regional and local meetings. The diversity of meetings I attend as Chief Executive shows how valued the Chamber is as the voice of business in Greater Manchester and beyond.


Last week I met David Frost, Director General of British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Philip Rutnam, Director General of Business and Skills at the Department For Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). This was a follow-up to a previous meeting to discuss how the BCC can help BIS focus on skills and how this can support the work of the Local Enterprise Partnerships.


I was also pleased to attend the Chamber’s Oldham Local Council along with fellow Board member and Past President Peter Heginbotham OBE and welcome Craig Dean as the new Oldham President. I’d like to thank Paul Roberts for his service as President. He is a highly respected businessman and has done great work for the Chamber and the local business community in his modest but very determined way. I look forward to working with Craig Dean, who is a very young, dynamic businessman, whose Web Applications business is a great success story. These are exciting times for the Oldham Council and I want to see the influence of the Council grow.


Thursday saw me attending my first board meeting of British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) following my recent appointment to the Board. I want to play a very active part in shaping the future of the BCC and the Chamber network. We have a diverse Chamber network and I want to build on that and ensure that Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is at the very centre of influence.


On Monday, Chris Fletcher and I met Jon Corner, Director for MediaCityUK at the University of Salford, as this exciting development gathers pace. Each week seems to bring fresh news of MediaCityUK’s rapid growth. Last week saw history being made with the first ever live television broadcast from the brand new studio complex. This came hot on the heels of the announcement that 100 apprenticeship places would be provided at the site by BBC North. Jon and I already know each other and we’re both looking forward to working together. The university’s investment here is substantial and cutting edge. The new building is a powerful statement of the university’s ambition to be at the centre of media and digital education and development.


Yesterday I attended the national conference on Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as a speaker at one of the workshops “Realising Every Place’s Potential”. My contribution seemed to be well-received and there was real interest in how the Greater Manchester LEP is evolving and how it fits with our existing structures. We are seen as the leaders and innovators here in Greater Manchester which means we exert real influence. The conference came just days after it was announced that Chamber director Keith Johnston had been appointed as one of the private sector members of the LEP. The Chamber congratulates Keith on his appointment and will be working closely with the LEP to make sure the voice of our Greater Manchester members is heard.


The highlight of this week of course is tomorrow’s Annual Dinner. I know everyone is looking forward to hearing from our guest speaker Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable. He has agreed to take part in a Question & Answer session during the dinner which will be a unique opportunity for businesses to put their questions directly to a leading member of the Coalition Government. Prior to the dinner he will also be taking part in a Chamber round table event with a group of business leaders.


Baroness Bev Hughes, will also be hosting a table of local MPs at the dinner which will strengthen the Chamber’s links with our local politicians. Bev is playing a vital role in developing our strategy for influencing key individuals in relation to Action For Business, our policy priorities. The trick is to influence the right people at an early stage before the formal consultation process begins.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Friday Guest Blog

Paul Smith, Head of the Debt Advisory team at corporate restructuring specialists MCR


Maintain A Steady Cashflow With Invoice Discounting


Maintaining a steady cashflow is a key but difficult aspect to any successful business, especially in an economic downturn. The past few years have seen SMEs become particularly vulnerable to uneven cashflow as a result of late payments.


The Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest have recently found that a quarter of the UK's SMEs cashflow problems are a direct result of customers paying bills between 30 and 60 days late. The figures, which were published at the end of January 2011 also outline that one in five SMEs are reported being owed on average between £50,000 and £100,000 a month in late payments.


Other figures from R3, the industry body that represents the UK insolvency practitioners, suggest that 27% of business collapses are because of another company going under, owing money.


It is clear to see how vitally important it is for any business to maintain tight credit control and debt collection processes to ensure that all owed money is paid on time. It is also increasingly essential that every business takes advantage of the solutions available to them and find what works best for them in order to help their company grow.


There are a number of ways in which most companies attempt to maintain a steady cashflow, including outlining a deadline in their payment terms and agreeing these payment terms in advance in written contracts. However, despite these procedures being put in place, it is rare that they are actually followed through with.


This puts SMEs in a difficult position as it is often the case that they don’t want to enforce late payment fees for fear they may lose important clients. Invoice discounting, a form of short term borrowing, allows a business to draw money against its sales invoices before the customer has actually paid it. To do so the business borrows a percentage of the value of its sales ledger from a finance company, effectively using the unpaid sales invoices as collateral for the borrowing.


Invoice discounting is a quick way to free up money, without changing your established credit control procedures. Unlike bank overdrafts, it’s a flexible facility that grows with your business, which may explain why bank overdrafts are in decline and invoice discounting is increasingly popular.


Invoice discounting is a potential credit route for firms struggling because of late payments. It involves selling invoices to a third party, who will provide credit and chase the debt on the businesses behalf.


With invoice discounting, the facility is confidential, and the business still retains responsibility for managing its own sales ledger, credit control and payment collection.


The advantages to this are that it gives your business an immediate injection of cash, usually within 24 hours which in turn enables you to pay your suppliers more quickly, and negotiate better terms as a result, taking full advantage of supplier discounts for early settlement.


The benefits of invoice discounting include:

• Improved cashflow: you no longer have to wait up to 90 days to get paid

• It's confidential – your customers will never know

• Up to 90% of invoice value available when you bill your customers

• The option to combine with Bad Debt Protection to minimise the risk against failing customers

• Cleared funds can be in your account the day after you raise your invoice

• You retain control over your credit control function

• Fast access to finance


Successfully maintaining a steady cashflow is increasingly difficult, especially for SMEs; the business where it is most important that they do maintain a steady cashflow. Finding the right solution for your company, ensuring that your debt management and cashflow are controlled is a business essential, which must not be overlooked.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business & Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce


You might well ask. The list of benefits from Chamber membership are all readily apparent and easily accessible when you need them, except perhaps when it comes to policy. Our policy work might seem unresponsive but dealing with Government, both local and national can be a drawn out process. We are constantly seeking your views and feedback on the things that matter to your business, but often letting you know what the result was takes time; but be assured YOUR VIEWS ARE OUR VIEWS. So back to the question, what what have we done for you lately?


The Chancellor's Budget Statement was filled with policy announcements that the Chamber has played a big hand in influencing. The centre piece of the Budget was tax simplification. I sit on the Office of Tax Simplification's (OTS) advisory committees to each of the two reviews, tax reliefs and small business taxation, that made recommendations to the Chancellor. The Chamber is pleased to report that he has listened to our views, and has acted on the Chamber's views, including our previous work on income tax and national insurance, something we have campaigned on for many years - yes policy can take some time! Our work with the OTS also led to other announcements in the Budget that weren't directly linked to them:


The changes to the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Venture Capital Trusts were supported by the Chamber as part of the OTS' work.


Changes to the Entrepreneur's Lifetime allowance, including the doubling of the allowance to £10m was supported by the Chamber.


Further on simplification, the Chancellor quoted the cost of regulation over the last ten years to business was £90bn. What he didn't say was that this figure was determined by the British Chambers of Commerce Burdens Barometer and this year the research for the Burdens Barometer was conducted at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce by Sana Nabi.


The fuel duty increase was widely expected to be dropped, and indeed it was. The Chancellor responded to suggestions of a windfall in his speech, saying that he actually was not going to get one at all. Why then Chancellor did you say yourself you had got one in the Emergency Budget last June? Anyhow, the Chamber was the only organisation to establish highly accurate estimates of the scale of the windfall and costs to businesses and consumers with our fuel duty model and the Chancellor responded sensibly.

The Chamber has also made a number of representations regarding more apprenticeship provision ahead of this Budget led by our Policy Adviser Paul Thomas who is also directing national policy development for the British Chambers of Commerce. It is therefore pleasing to see the Government has taken note of the need for additional funding and is to support a further 50,000 apprenticeships, including adult apprenticeships.

And finally, but by no means least, a long time in the pipeline has been the Chamber's campagin to secure investment in the rail network. Richard Critchley has been working for around 18 months on this campaign, meeting senior ministers of both the current and previous Governments long before others knew what Northern Hub was. £85 million investment in the Ordsall Curve, part of the Northern Hub project, has been confirmed, which will kick start this important infrastructure improvement that will benefit passengers and freight services across the entire North of England and give businesses the confidence that they can move goods and services around the region with ease.


Our work however never ends and we are driving forward the policy agenda with our Action for Business priorities. We need you to input into those policies and ensure that Greater Manchester continues to set the agenda and delivers the right environment for business and job creation. Watch out for further announcements in the coming weeks and let us have those views - you all have them so we're all ears.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Friday Guest Blog: Nolan Redshaw Offers Spending Advice


By Louisa Brown - Senior Asset Manager and Associate at Nolan Redshaw

Property costs can represent a significant proportion of a firm’s outgoings and they are an expense that can often be overlooked. Louisa Brown, a senior asset manager and associate at Nolan Redshaw, has advice on key areas where both owners and occupiers may be able to reduce their property costs:

"Business rates – with new rateable values assigned to business premises last year as a result of the Valuation Office Agency’s revaluation procedure, now is the time to check whether you are paying the correct amount of business rates. Where alterations or additions have been made to a property, this will have an impact on the level of rates payable so it is important to check that your property has been correctly assessed. It is also worth bearing in mind that ‘external’ factors, such as extensive road works, or the opening of a new retail scheme nearby, can also potentially give grounds for an appeal if you can prove that your trade has been affected.

Service charges – where service charges are payable, whether on commercial or retail property, make sure the cost of the services you are being billed for can actually be legitimately recovered under the terms of your lease and that any ambiguous clauses are not being used to the landlord’s advantage. Is the proportion you are being charged fair and reasonable? How has it been calculated? Are the services you are paying for actually being provided? Have they been procured by way of competitive tendering to ensure the best price is obtained? These are all questions which you are entitled to ask and have answered. You should also be provided with an annual certificate detailing what has been spent and you can request a breakdown of the costs and copies of invoices. Similarly, you should be provided with an annual budget detailing the anticipated expenditure and the services to be provided. All too often we find that service charges are simply paid by tenants as an additional outgoing without being queried or analysed. But with potential for money to be reclaimed, is it something you can afford to overlook?

Lease re-structuring – can you re-structure the terms of your lease to reduce your outgoings? Use the economic climate to your advantage. Similarly, if you are a tenant and your lease is due for renewal within the next 12 months, take advantage of current market conditions to secure new terms.

Where property is empty, what steps can be taken to improve its marketability and make it stand out from other available competing accommodation? Would minimal expenditure in dealing with repairs, redecoration or refurbishment improve the chances of securing a new tenant? Take advantage of market conditions to get competitive quotes for any works that need doing."

Nolan Redshaw can provide expert professional advice on all of the above and on any property related matter. Please contact Louisa Brown on 0161 763 0828 for further information.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Chamber Reaction to Today's Budget


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


“On the face of it, today’s budget hits the mark on several issues that the Chamber has been lobbying for on behalf of its members. The delay and cut in fuel duty was one of the most high profile decisions and our members have been crystal clear about their opposition to another fuel increase for the last few weeks, so it is good that Government is listening to the business community.

“The potential simplification of the tax system and halt on a range of new legislation will also be welcomed. These are exactly the things to do to give businesses breathing space to take stock of the current economic situation, develop their plans and go for growth.

“The focus on new apprenticeships and especially young unemployed people is welcome as is the announcement about investment in new technical colleges. Local transport got a boost with the confirmation of funding for the next stage of work for the Northern Hub around the Ordsall Chord.

“The confirmation of a Greater Manchester Enterprise Zone will be greeted with interest. Whilst the geography of where this will be is important the major factor to its success will be what policies will be used to attract businesses to the zone and keep them there for the long term. We await further details on this.

“It was worrying to see the official growth forecast downgraded and inflation looks set to remain high which will impact on the rate of growth and recovery. As is always the case, further details will follow but the initial reaction is one that it seems to be moving in the right direction for business.”

Monday, 21 March 2011

Business Psychology

Hazel Carter-Showell, Managing Director, CarterCorson


How SME’s can benefit from using business psychology tools to increase revenue and retain clients.

Business psychology is a relatively new discipline, blending a deeper understanding of people and human behaviour with an understanding of business and how it all works in practice. 10 years ago, when I started my business, it was seen as an unholy alliance of management consultancy and therapy! Luckily, that attitude is changing, and it isn’t just the major plcs who are using psychology to improve business performance. SMEs already know how vitally important it is for every asset to be used to the max – there is not enough time or energy for limping along carrying underperformers, failing to get decisions out of a dysfunctional board, or trying to whip some enthusiasm from a disengaged workforce who will do the bare minimum.

Few businesses fail because of their business model – they fail because something went wrong for the people in it. Every now and again we have to remind ourselves that businesses are people, making or selling stuff for people – without people there is no business. People are not commodities, they won’t perform just because you pay them – even if you pay them until their eyes water (even footballers).

Psychology gives business owners the edge to understand what I call the ‘Human Balance Sheet’©. By understanding your people – where they are assets and where liabilities (and accepting the same person can be both!), SMEs can ensure they have motivated people doing the right job, in the right way; and getting more from them than it says on the job description. Additionally, no business operates in a vacuum, you can improve your external relationships with suppliers, clients and key stakeholders; with less time spent dealing with misunderstandings or the emotional fall out of unmet expectations.

Tools such as psychometrics (often misunderstood and occasionally misused) can help you to understand the potential of your team, how they behave under pressure, what motivates them. This can then be used to get them re-engaged, aligning what they want with the company’s objectives – a genuine win-win. Other psychology tools include cognitive behavioural coaching – sort of coaching on steroids, helping otherwise talented individuals who are not performing because of something in their past. This isn’t a ‘whip out the couch’ moment – I believe that talking about the past doesn’t change it, but you can change how you respond to it today.

Imagine team development that gives your people the emotional intelligence to handle even the most challenging clients, and the skills to connect and communicate on a whole new level: no more silos, better client relationships, more effective sales processes with everyone pulling in the same direction, creating increased profits. When you see it like that, perhaps business psychology doesn’t seem like such a soft subject. Actually, the soft stuff is always the hardest, and to repeat a phrase I heard recently that I love – when you have to be financially stingy, it is time to be emotionally generous. So, maybe it is time to put ‘analyse human balance sheet’ at the top of your next board agenda. The day you come to sell your business, to investors looking for a quality management team – you’ll be glad you did.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Friday Guest Blog: Why intuition is more smart skill than soft, in today’s business climate


By Nick Kettles, Marketing Director, CTI (The Coaches Training Institute), UK

Even today when the idea of Emotional Intelligence is common parlance, the default setting for business is that decisions must be based on hard facts, derived from clearly set research criteria and benchmarks.

At best the role of gut feeling, or intuition, and other so-called soft skills, will be an auxiliary one, and only accepted as a starting point for collecting the evidence required to underwrite the decision making process.

After all this is how things have always been done, haven’t they? Moving forward by making incremental improvements that follow either the industry standard or the course set by a business’ founder?

But what is available to businesses when intuition is honoured and acted on, without delay? Perhaps in a pressing situation which doesn’t allow for comprehensive research, and where incremental improvement just won’t do? Like a financial crash and recession which few foresaw, or at least, failed to make provision for?

Sadly, the use of the term ‘soft skill’ to describe less linear, deductive processes, suggest that the skill in question, is not as robust or as reliable, as other business skills. Yet, for businesses facing the difficulty of recession, we must be willing to look to a wider set of variables, than hard analysis alone, if we are to not just weather the storm, but powerfully respond in creating new markets and innovating products that meet the current needs of society.

As any artist or inventor will tell you, the creative process begins with a hunch, a certain curiosity, or gut feeling – a willingness to feel and listen to our inner compass - which when acted on, reveals new avenues and pathways of inquiry and discovery.

Successful, business people know this well and perhaps are happy to let it be their secret, competitive edge. For example, in his book “Losing My Virginity” Richard Branson, explains his Midas touch as such: “Some of the best ideas come out of the blue,’ he says. ‘You (just) have to keep an open mind to see their virtue.”

The first step in leveraging intuition in the business place is a shift in perspective about how we view employees as more than information processors.
Instead we need to be willing to see them as whole people, with a unique perspective to offer: where intellectual capacity and emotional intelligence are given equal standing as a legitimate source of ‘business information’ which potentially can increase visibility and inform new direction.

Such a culture shift is unlikely to happen overnight, especially in larger organisations, in which business processes have reduced employees to the role they play in the system, and only that, and yet the acquisition of soft (smart) skills, by middle managers, themselves can begin to seed a new awareness in their cohorts.

Amongst many models which encourage improved emotional intelligence, Co-active Coaching is perhaps unique in placing intuition at the heart of our ability to both have more creative conversations, and, visualise a better, more fulfilling future.
What’s more, once acquired, intuition is a renewable resource: it’s cheap (we only have to learn how to empower it); and potentially, can yield greater results in a shorter period of time.

Soft skill or smart skill? What’s your intuition tell you?


CTI offers Co-active Coaching training courses for executives, managers and new career seekers, in Manchester and London, throughout the year. For their forthcoming 2.5 day Introduction to Co-Active Coaching at Salford Quays, Manchester, (March 11-13, or May 13-15), CTI UK are offering the course at £275 (+VAT) which represents £100 off the normal price of £375 (+VAT).

For more information call Judy Rich on 0845 299 8199, or judy@thecoaches.com, or visit http://www.coaching-courses.com/

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Carry On Trading


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

One of the Government’s favourite lines is about an “export-led recovery”, however get talking to any business and there seems to be a huge gap before this becomes a reality.

One of the main issues raised time and again by members is the scarcity of credit guarantees for exporters and the knock-on effect this has with accessing finance. Over the last two years, there has been a retreat by credit insurers from the export market, which has made it difficult for businesses to access finance and do the deal. The appetite to offer insurance seems undiminished overseas so many UK firms now access foreign-based cover to continue trading. Indeed many schemes are backed by overseas governments to levels we could only dream about in the UK.

We have made various representations to Government on this issue, looking for the possibility of greater state intervention to support these schemes by covering the risk – not to give handouts – but to support and step in when required. Our International Trade Council has made this issue a top priority to preserve what we have already and encourage new exporters.

It was with some optimism that the recent Trade White Paper heralded the launch of five new schemes from the Government and delivered through the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) and BIS. On first appearances they seemed to fit the bill and would offer broader access and coverage to encourage exports, but would they be the real deal?

To test this out, the Chamber took a group of exporters down to ECGD and BIS on 16th March to meet with the people that put the schemes together, as well as meet with one of the three main credit insurance companies, Euler Hermes.

It was quite a busy day and involved a bit of criss-crossing the capital, but the meetings with Patrick Crawford, the CEO of ECGD, and David Frost, the EU Trade Director at BIS, with their teams did prove fruitful on a number of levels. They agreed that whilst the schemes were a start, they may need further enhancements and changes before they really do what they were set up to do. This could be seen as worrying on one hand, but actually is a refreshing approach and one that leaves the way open for further input. Direct business guidance on what the schemes eventually look like and deliver will be invaluable and something that we can help co-ordinate. Both teams were keen on visiting Manchester in the not too distant future and we’ll be setting some dates up for this.

One of the real benefits though, and the one that gives me satisfaction time and time again, is getting business owners in front of key decision-makers to get their views and issues across. As a Chamber member you can get access to the politicians and decision-makers as part of the service we offer, not just on this issue, but across the whole range of policy areas identified in our “Action For Business” document.

There will be more opportunities in the future so keep an eye on what’s happening.
In the meantime, the focus stays on this issue and the relentless drive to keep Britain trading.