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

Friday, 30 March 2012

Friday Guest Blog

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

In the UK one person dies every six minutes from a heart attack and as many as one in three die before they reach hospital. Worringly, 13% of all workplace casualties are cardiac arrest victims.

Leading first aid charity, St John Ambulance wants to see more Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available at businesses and other locations such as doctor and dentists’ surgeries, leisure facilities and shopping centres where they could be used to save someone’s life if they have a cardiac arrest.

An AED is a small, easy to use piece of equipment that can save lives in the minutes after someone suffers a cardiac arrest. It works by shocking the heart back into rhythm and can be operated by anyone, regardless of the level of their first aid knowledge. Specifically, the AED analyses the heart rhythm and states whether or not the operative should apply a shock. The AED pads will transmit electricity from the machine only if the patient’s heart is beating abnormally.

As part of its lifesaving campaign St John Ambulance has introduced a new AED package consisting of an AED and comprehensive training for up to eight people for £1,695 to help local businesses get involved.

St John Ambulance believes that no one should die because of a lack of first aid when they need it. The survival rate increases by more than 50 per cent if an AED is used within the first four minutes so immediate defibrillation could be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.

This is a fantastic package offering all you need to have an AED on site with confidently trained staff but in an emergency anyone can use as an AED as the machine talks you through the process. The more AEDs that are located throughout the North West the more lives that can be saved.

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

Please quote NW12 when purchasing the AED package.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Local Heroes

By Chris Fletcher, Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

“I've been spending quite a bit of time out and about on home turf in Greater Manchester these last couple of weeks as our local member councils started their current round of meetings. In each of the 10 areas the Chamber covers in GM, we have a local council made up of members who are there to put a local spin on issues and the work that the Chamber does.

“This is a crucial part of the work we do and what, in essence, a Chamber of Commerce is about: being the voice of local business, but one that can be projected to the right people at a local, national or, following my Brussels escapades the week before last (Brussels shouts, an international level.

“Coupled with the expertise of our specialist committees that cover broader issues around skills, transport, etc, and fitted into the themes under Action For Business, you soon develop quite a bit of very useful firepower from business on the key issues that need addressing and what we can help with at a local level.

“The team and myself have been doing regular updates via Chamber News and also on our website (, so I won't repeat everything here, but I just wanted to put down some of the highlights.

“It would be completely remiss if I didn't express my gratitude and recognition for the time that members take to attend, and get involved with, our councils and committees. They are great people with great businesses and absolute staunch defenders of local trade.

“Despite what the doom mongers would have you believe, there is a huge amount of great business going on right under our noses here in Greater Manchester. Rochdale has, for some reason, become the soft option for some elements of the media to exemplify a town in decline. It may well not be a boom town, but I'd ask anyone with negative views about business in the borough to get along to our next Chamber meeting and listen for yourself to the passion, determination and the great work being led by the Chamber, with partners, to set the record straight.

“Procurement was another issue that got the temperatures raised in a number of councils especially the overly complex and downright obstructive processes and paperwork surrounding many procurement opportunities. It seems like even the code breakers at Bletchley Park would have waved the white flag with some of this. But why is it so complicated? Here's a secret - it needn't be. There are as many public sector bodies sick of the legislation as there are private businesses, but it is an easy cop-out to hide behind the rulebook. So let's change it.

“Business rates were high on many members’ watch lists because it's on the high streets and in the industrial estates where the impact of the upcoming 5.6% rise will be felt, and also where the warped logic behind the scrapping of empty property rate relief is in evidence. One council, which shall remain nameless, heard of a substantial town centre building which was ready for the wrecking ball as the owners chose destruction as an alternative to paying several tens of thousands of pounds in rates on empty property. How's that for a growth strategy?

“I could go on.

“So what do we do with this, because it's got to be more than a therapy session where members come to get it off their chest? We're currently updating our Action For Business document with all this information and the ideas discussed and we will be discussing these at the main Chamber Council on 30th March, then the fun part begins of making things happen and taking action with lobbying and campaigns.

“It's a simple process with complex issues, but that’s our job and that's what our members pay us to do.

“We are always on the look out for members to join our councils and committees. So why not give it a go? Drop me an email and I'd be happy to talk to you about your business, your issues and how we can help take action for business.”

Friday, 9 March 2012

Friday Guest Blog

Peter Batchelor, Owner of Gabriel Design & Website365

I was shocked to learn in a recent conversation with the marketing department of a local, independent radio station that many smaller businesses in the Greater Manchester area do not have a website. The main reason for this,
it appears, is that smaller companies see a website and internet presence as an expensive luxury. As it happens neither of these points are true.

How much business is lost simply because prospective customers are unable to easily confirm that a company’s services or products are suitable for their needs. More disastrously how often are prospective customers unable to find up to date and correct contact information? A simple, well maintained website can solve both these and many more issues facing small business in these tough economic times.

Of course, with marketing funds growing tighter, small companies point at the perceived high costs to launching a website and maintaining a website presence, and while this can sometimes be the case it certainly need not be. While bigger companies, and those which regularly trade on the ‘net, require top end fully functional websites more traditional businesses can benefit from an attractive, well designed, simple website. Such a website can prove to be cost effective and created bespoke for an affordable fee.

For example last year Gabriel Design launched a product specifically designed to tackle this need, Website365. Unlike many of the large, online website providers, each website is tailored to meet the requirements of the client and not taken from a selection of off the peg templates and colour schemes. Equally, unlike many high end website development firms, Website365 solutions are affordable and cost effective. A unique website can be tailored for as little as £365 including all associated fees with the annual costs dropping to under £100 after the first year.

Gabriel Design and Website365 are not the only affordable alternative to high end web developers or low quality online solutions. Therefore the question to small business must not be. “Can you afford a have a website?” but “Can you afford not to?”

For further information on affordable, bespoke website design contact Pete Batchelor at Gabriel Design via either or

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Three Years On...

Dr Brian Sloan, Chief Economist at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

In March 2009 the Bank of England announced that its interest rate would be set at the historical low of 0.5%, after falling sharply from 5.0% just six months earlier. For some mortgage holders this was welcome in a period of low borrowing costs and one of relative stability that is a far cry from 1982 when interest rates were changed 36 times. Just how favourable the rate has become is perhaps reflected in the difference between then and now; in 1982 the rate fell from 14.3125% to 9.1250% before finishing the year at 10%.

Whilst those on tracker mortgages and standard variable rates enjoyed falling repayment costs on mortgages as the high street banks lowered rates, businesses continued to report that interest rates offered on loans did not reflect the low Bank of England rate and in many cases double digit rates were quoted to businesses seeking to invest.

What was clear in the run up to September 2008, when interest rates remained at 5.0%, was that households had started to repay debt and retail sales were hit. The record low interest rate resulted in a pause of that paying down of household debt but the level of debt remains above 130% of disposable income.

In a sense the nation has become complacent about interest rates and debt levels, but why is this significant? Because interest rates charged by the high street banks are starting to rise. The Bank of England highlighted the cost of banks’ financing in the recent inflation report, and along with the increased cost of capital resulting from increasing capital ratios to meet the new demands of regulators and costs of ring fencing operations, interest rates from providers are only going to move in one direction and will put further pressure on consumers.

Despite the period of interest rate stability the Bank of England has embarked on a programme of asset purchases, quantitative easing or as some would put it printing money. We don’t dispute the macro economic impact of the programme but would question the benefit to the regions and the longer term impact of the policy. With real interest rates rising, putting pressure on growth and the recovery, what policy levers are left for the Bank of England? Business investment must lead the recovery, but much of that investment will need to come from overseas. Government and the Bank must now work to set the right conditions for that investment, as credit and financing from domestic providers will remain constrained.

Friday, 2 March 2012

This Week – Brussels Shouts

By Chris Fletcher - Policy Director, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

“I’ve actually spent most of my week away from Manchester; Thursday I was in London with colleagues from across the Chamber network for the British Chambers of Commerce Strategic Policy Group meeting – more on this next week.

“On Tuesday and Wednesday the Chamber’s Chief Executive, Clive Memmott, Baroness Beverley Hughes and I, spent some time in Brussels meeting with a number of MEPs and organisations that work over there. As you may already know, the Chamber has spent some time recently in developing greater links with our MPs in Greater Manchester and now have a series of regular briefings scheduled with them on business issues. The visit this week was designed to help to do the same at a European level.

“Most people's first reaction when mentioning the work of the EU is a combination of negativity, complexity and apathy. I'm not going to shatter any illusions or disavow anyone of their ideas, but we heard some really worrying things this week about a number of areas. We heard about: possible new laws being discussed - the Ergonomics Directive being a classic example; the lack of any real firepower being given by the UK to quite important issues - I sensed a level of frustration from the MEPs about this and, finally, the overwhelming layers of organisations, not all public sector I must point out, that work in the policy bubble that surrounds the European Parliament.

“Add into this mix recent issues that members have raised about state aid rules, low levels of funding that are applied for by the UK from EU pots that leave us very much as the poor man of Europe, and a pervasive level of ambivalence that leaves the decision-making door wide open for other countries. I'm not advocating we replicate some other countries where there are, for example, up to 30 staff on the ground in Brussels actively lobbying for a particular region, but there has to be some form of happy medium that gets the UK viewpoint across. The MEPs do feel a bit isolated.

“So, where to start? Well, I'm still going through the copious notes taken trying to distill an accurate picture of what we found out and putting this into a context that will make it easy to translate what is being produced in Brussels and elsewhere, so that for those key issues, we can get a quick response about their impact from members. Make no mistake, the policy machine is still very much cranked up to max in Europe; the problems around the Euro haven't dented the drive for more directives.

“What is important is that we mobilise our members and business in general to put an element of reality on all this, and this was something the MEPs were very keen to pursue. When 90% of time is spent creating law and very little if any is spent on taking into account what impact it has on the ground, then there is a very large opportunity there to take advantage of this and begin to overturn the preconceived ideas about "Brussels".

“Quite how and what we as a Chamber do to make this happen without falling foul of an overly complex supporting mechanism is something that will need working out. It is obvious that without any real effort you could spend an awful long time getting nowhere. We haven't got time for that and UK business certainly doesn't, however, that won't put me off giving this a go. There are some dangerous anti-business thoughts being expressed openly by other European representatives. We need to tackle these first and get on the front foot to make this work for us.”