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 (, 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 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).