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

Friday, 25 May 2012

Friday Guest Blog

By Sharon Betton, North West Landlords Association

Whatever business you engage in, you will want to make it as successful as possible. You do this by joining your professional organisation, by belonging to associations specifically for your business. Or you may choose to work on your own, with no support in place. That is your choice, but few people would feel that relying on gut instinct can replace clear training on your specialist subject.

North West Landlords Association, a local association for local landlords, covers the whole of the northwest. Our monthly meetings are well-attended with a range of speakers on subjects which landlords want (or need) to know. This is particularly important as legislation is changing in housing law. Landlords are concerned about the probable impact on their businesses when Universal Credit is introduced from October 2013. This will see benefits paid in one lump sum to the tenant with no option for payment to go direct to the landlord. Whilst many tenants will have no difficulty in managing money themselves, a significant number will struggle with budgeting; experience leads us to believe that when financial difficulties arise, the person that will suffer will be the landlord, with rent payments going into the household budget and never mind the rent payment!

Hard as it may seem, the answer when rent arrears start to accrue is to follow a procedure which, if there is no improvement, culminates in eviction. North West Landlords Association is running a no. of training courses to ensure landlords know exactly what to do. “Rent Arrears – Avoidance and Action” is running on Thursday, 28th June 1-3.00pm. “Bringing a Tenancy to an End” is running Thursday, 2nd August 10.00am-1.00pm. If you really feel you want to know more, attend “New Tenancies – Good Management and Practice” on Thursday, 19th July. The venue for all these is the office at 57 New Hall Lane, Bolton.

Charges are very reasonable and information is given in bite-size chunks with good notes! Please contact us on 01204 495595 if you want to know more about the association and the training. We are here to help landlords who help society by providing homes.

A Day In The Life Of Dr Sloan

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

With a seemingly endless and confusing list of contradictory economic indicators in the media every day, I was a little apprehensive writing my first blog about the current economic situation. So I decided I’m not going to!

I was at an event yesterday when someone introduced themselves and said: “So, Chief Economist at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, what exactly do you do?” Suddenly I’m having flashbacks to all those difficult interview questions and breaking into a cold sweat. There is no typical day, honestly. Just about anything can come up, but that answer often seems like a cop out.

On the train in the morning I got a call as I’m catching up with the latest business news. It was BBC Radio Manchester asking if I’d heard about the new jobs being created by the Co-Op in Manchester and did I have a view? We even agreed that I would get off the train at Salford Crescent so they could do the interview while I stood in a quiet spot on the campus of Salford University. Sorted, the interview goes well and to close the interview, the presenter asks: “Are you in the garden? I believe that sounds like a male blackbird calling in the background.” We’re still live on air, bizarre.

The morning in the office was spent pouring over the grim news that GDP for quarter 1 has been revised down to -0.3%, but this still seems at odds with the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey, a point made by Robert Chote, Chairman of the Office of Budget Responsibility, speaking at a lunchtime event yesterday organised by ProManchester. I was a guest of Chief Executive John Ashcroft at the event and had the opportunity to speak to other leading figures from across the region that share the Chamber’s view and much doubt is being cast on the Office of National Statistics’ figures.

The afternoon was somewhat routine, except for the unusual ability to have a staff catch-up outdoors in the sunshine, and a pensions meeting where I had a few questions of my own to ask. Last night I headed off to Manchester Business School for the last in their series of Vital Topics lectures as guest of the Dean, Professor Michael Luger. I have missed some of the great speakers this series so I was looking forward to the speaker Simon Bowen of Urenco.

Yesterday was a day for tough questions and next time I will address the tough questions of where we see the region’s economy and prospects for business and job creation. There is a lot to be upbeat about. Yes these are challenging times, but look at some of the positives. Businesses in the region are more confident, looking to invest and are creating jobs. On that final point the evidence is there in the recent labour market statistics for the North West, as more people are now in work across the region. But this complex set of numbers isn’t easily digestible and the headlines focused on the negatives. So for now, as my Dad’s Army office mug says - “Don’t Panic!”

Friday, 18 May 2012

Friday Guest Blog: Life after Lofstedt

By Peter Davies - Director of Training, P.D Associates (NW) Ltd

Following the recently published and much awaited Lofstedt report on a wide range of HSE Reform, there are concerns in the safety provision industry regarding the impact in particular on First Aid Training. The outcome has been that all First Aid Training is to be deregulated from a date yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that it will all happen between October this year and April next, the pressure to implement is on sooner rather than later.

What this in fact means is that the HSE will no longer be regulating the standards and qualification of First Aid courses together with no longer requiring providers to affiliate to them or other Awarding Bodies of Compliance.

What this now means is, to put not too finer point on it, will allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to deliver first aid without being properly regulated. Potential providers setting up to jump on the bandwagon will potentially be in it for the ‘quick buck’ and without any experience in the industry or practical background. It does not need much imagination as to what could happen when potentially poor quality training could put staff at risk.

As things stand, Awarding Bodies of Compliance (AWB) have to be registered with the HSE with smaller Training Providers working under ABC company banner. This ensures that standards of training are maintained through regular spot verification of course content and delivery by independent assessors. With the new regulations companies who were once with HSE will now, only if they wish to, should be approved by Ofqual to show commitment to high and approved standards of compliance. As it seems to be quite expensive to gain this recognition, for the most part only well established and respected providers would probably wish to fall in line. The Awarding Bodies of Compliance will then be able to dictate standards of materials and Training levels of smaller providers who would wish to come under their umbrella to establish a quality assurance level to their clients.

Unfortunately it also engenders the big brother pressures from large national organisations who will not have to be registered in the same way and feel they have the right to dominate, I can see them going out and advertising themselves as the brand leaders therefore everyone should fall in with them. Don’t fall into that trap as it’s just not true.

In times of austerity it is always easy to opt for the cheap option, but are you getting value for money and quality of service? That’s the question those requiring a training provider should be asking. As a relatively small provider to industry, P. D. Associates (NW) Ltd are aware that clients are entitled to be made aware of the quality of training available from the company and the questions should be asked when enquiring to a provider, What qualifications do your Trainers hold? Are they insured? How long have they been training? And if necessary ask for references. All our Tutors are widely qualified with years of experience some within the emergency services/ forces with a minimum teaching qualification of PTLLS3, hold an up to date enhanced CRB certificate. They all have to have their own indemnity insurance and are subject to annual verification, and attend regular CPD update awareness days.

Working under the umbrella of Awarding Bodies of Compliance, us and others like us can take advantage of quality produced advertising materials and training media (books etc) including well presented and professionally produced Power Point Presentations and DVD’s. By working with providers such as this you are assured of the correct standards being maintained and monitored by the AWB with whom they are affiliated.

The AWB’s themselves will be scrutinised on an on-going basis by Ofqual to ensure standards are maintained, this scrutiny is passed down the line to affiliated providers who must comply or lose their status and with it credibility.

Companies who charge competitive rates for their services will have the backing of their awarding bodies/ Ofqual Organisations and will draw on many years expertise both in the field and within the medium of training, this is what the client is paying for and being in the knowledge that the training being given is appropriate and thorough being at the same time being delivered by fully qualified and experienced providers and trainers.

Industry beware, cheap is not always best practice, shop around before you decide and ask appropriate questions of the provider before dealing out contracts. Although the First Aid may be deregulated, business will be under obligation to buy in training at an appropriate standard to comply with the Health and Safety at work etc. Act 1974, therefore in line with due diligence Ofqual Training Centres will be the only safe option and not unregulated providers. Insurance companies may also dictate the use of appropriate regulated standard of service provision for safety training.

Moving on to yet another emotive subject which is that of Asbestos Awareness. It is still fact that many small businesses in the building and maintenance industries are not taking this seriously. Asbestos was used extensively in buildings until totally banned in 1999. The problem now is the fact that those entering on work in premises built before that time will potentially place workers at risk. One only has to look at the bulletins on the HSE website to realise the enormity of the problem. awareness training courses should form an essential part of any companies safety strategy. Over 4000 workers will die this year as a result of being exposed to asbestos, some will have worked in the Asbestos Manufacturing Industry or in building works many years ago. It has been established that Mesothelioma, a fatal condition of exposure to Asbestos, can be laying dormant within the lungs for between 15 and 60 years and when or if it does appear only short life expectance is the best one can hope for. If you don’t believe me, go to the HSE Website/Asbestos and click onto the clip featuring Tom King( Clip entitled-Hidden Killer) who was the owner of a family building business, then say you don’t want to know.

In travelling around delivering courses, I find that on many occasions when Asbestos is mentioned, I find that there is a total ignorance of the problem and in many instances the company for whom these tradesmen/women work are not being made aware of the dangers. To show due diligence and duty of care, businesses should take on board appropriate training for their staff and not push it to one side, it might be part of your cost cutting strategy to turn a blind eye to what you may consider not necessary training, but try and take the long term view of the consequences if you don’t act.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Action For Business

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

This week, the Government had a chance to get back on the front foot after taking a battering in the local elections, and after a series of blunders and bungles around the communication of policy changes, especially in the aftermath of the Budget. On Tuesday, all three party leaders descended on Essex with the Prime Minister and Deputy PM re-launching the coalition, and Ed Miliband continuing to ride the crest of a wave following recent election successes. Wednesday was the Queen’s Speech when the coalition’s priorities for work were announced through a series of Bills. We were told by a number of government figures that growth was the number one priority and this week would see a new focus and emphasis on getting the economy back on track.

Now, I’ve been out and about quite a bit this week, but as I’m writing this on Friday morning, I’m worried that I’ve missed something. Yes the right noises have been made; yes, those hardy perennials - red tape and legislation - have been highlighted in the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill; yes, the Banking Reform Bill sounds like it will, at last, start to reduce the dangers of “casino banking” (TM Vince Cable), but it all just seems a bit half-hearted, and dare I say, familiar?

Of course, there needs to be the right environment in place to help business and no doubt some of the measures announced this week will go some way to achieve that, but I’m not convinced they go far enough. Where is the real action for business that will get growth properly back at the top of the agenda? Where are the bold innovative ideas? Certainly not, it seems, in Whitehall.

Well, for some time now we’ve been working with our members – real businesses in the real economy – identifying key issues that we think need changing and sorting out. I’ve mentioned this previously and it is our ‘Action for Business’ programme and you can find out here what this looks like .

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be holding our member committee meetings looking at the latest issues affecting business around transport, the economy and low carbon, amongst others. A list of the meetings and issues can be found here: . These aren’t talking shops; these are groups of members that want to see something happen to help business in a real and tangible way, and you can get involved.

I’m always open to ideas and suggestions as to what needs doing to help business. I’m also more than happy to tell whoever needs to be told what is needed to take real action for business not, as it appears in some quarters, just to pay lip service to it.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Let’s get back to business…..

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

"The dust is currently settling on the local election results and the Manchester mayoral referendum. In the former, Labour made huge gains locally with some high profile casualties along the way, and in the latter, the Manchester electorate (well the 25% of them that voted) said ‘no’ to having an elected mayor.

The whole elected mayoral issue is an interesting one and something that may well turn into one of those “'no’ today doesn’t mean ‘no’ forever” issues. Many members struggled with the fact that it wasn’t a mayor for Greater Manchester that was on offer from government. The idea of a “metro mayor” across Greater Manchester was something that had a bit of traction with those businesses we spoke to, and it was clear in the final days leading up to the vote that the government themselves started to sound unsure that they were asking the right question. It will be interesting to see what impact the mayor in Salford will have, also how Joe Anderson fills the role in Liverpool and, indeed, how the other cities especially Leeds and Birmingham vote. I’m sure if momentum starts to swing behind mayors, we could see calls for another go at this in the future. After all, it is difficult to get behind a “faceless” concept as it was presented to the electorate. Put some personalities behind it and get some activity going and things could start to look a whole lot different.

No doubt many will see all this as a distraction from the economic challenges that are facing business and the UK at present. I have some sympathies with that view. However, whether or not we had a mayor, or whichever party is in charge of a local authority, it is absolutely crucial that as a Chamber, we fulfil our main role which is tackling the issues that affect our members.
Over the next few weeks, our member-led committees will be discussing a range of issues that are currently affecting business and deciding on action to address them. You can find details of how our committees work, and what they are currently taking action for business on by following this link: 

If you want to get involved, please do so, as the stronger the voice of business, the more chance that when we talk to the decision-makers, be they local authority leaders, mayors or ministers, we do so with authority and from a position of strength."