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

Monday, 28 January 2013

High Speed Monday

By Emma Antrobus, Transport Policy Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Today (Monday 28th January) Government announced their preferred route for HS2 to travel from north of Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester. At Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce we have long supported the project as we see the potential economic benefit for the region as well as the transformational possibilities for transport.

Ahead of the announcement there were a lot of dismissive comments, along the lines of “£34 billion to cut 20 minutes off a train journey.” There is so much more to the project that the journey time savings are an incidental benefit. And so I took it upon myself to be a major flag bearer in supporting the project as it was portrayed through the media.

This resulted in me being in the BBC offices in Salford at 5.30am this morning to be interviewed for Radio 5 Live. This was rapidly followed by an interview on the Today programme, thankfully not quite the grilling that it could have been.

I took a short break from media stardom to be part of the meeting party for the Chancellor at Piccadilly Station where he stated the Government’s commitment to getting the line built and studied the maps of the route. (Click here for full details of the routes and station locations

I then made my way back to MediaCity for interviews by BBC News Channel, BBC North West Tonight and BBC Midlands. Some of the details of the project I feel I could now recite in my sleep – estimated £1.5 billion economic growth for Greater Manchester against a national figure of £4bn, up to 10,000 jobs created and supported in Greater Manchester, the West Coast Mainline will be full in the next 10-15 years proving that it is a capacity issue, not a speed issue.

The ability to connect cities, specifically the people and businesses in those cities, is the critical element of the HS2 project. We are currently lagging behind many countries in Europe and the rest of the world with the paucity of our high speed rail provision. Today’s announcement allows business to have confidence that there will be Government investment in our cities, which will influence the private sector decisions as to where they will invest.

Also the connectivity direct to mainland Europe and HS2 linking to airports in Birmingham and Manchester means that the UK is increasingly attractive to inward investors.(The link to Heathrow is subject to the outcome of the Davies Commission into airport (hub) capacity but can be included in Phase 2 if it Heathrow remains as the main hub).

HS2 will not reach Manchester for about 20 years but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support the project - transformational schemes take time to plan and implement. But, if we want to leave our city and country better than it was for us, this could be one of the ways to achieve it.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Friday Guest Blog - Business Partnerships

By Eimear McCartan, Corporate and Partnership Solicitor, Ralli

If only getting out of a difficult partnership was as easy as it is for celebrities ending their torment in the jungle with the words “I’m a celebrity – get me out of here”. Unfortunately for partners, exiting a partnership is a much trickier path.

In the last year, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of partnership matters dealing with partners trying to exit a business partnership. One of the most commonly cited reasons for wanting out is partners being fed-up with co-partners not pulling their weight. Another commonly cited reason is personal resentment between partners, resulting in the breakdown of the working relationship. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – partnerships are like marriages and often what starts out as a happy relationship can end in bitterness and acrimony between the parties. Cynical, I know!

So, if your partner is causing you torment and you are desperate to get out, what are your options? If there is a partnership agreement in place setting out the exit process clearly, this can make life considerably easier for everyone involved. Good partnership agreements will spell out how a partner can exit, how the exit is dealt with, how capital and profits are to be allocated upon exit and perhaps post-retirement restrictions on competition.

Without a partnership agreement, things can get pretty tricky. No partnership agreement means parties have to rely upon the default provisions set out in the Partnership Act 1890. This enduring legislation still in force today dictates that in the absence of agreement to the contrary, partners cannot expel fellow partners, prohibits retirement without agreement and dictates that a partnership can be dissolved on notice.

So if your co-partners have become like jungle critters to you, make sure you get legal advice to help you get out of the partnership as efficiently and beneficially as possible.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Friday Guest Blog - Lessons We’ve Learned About Corporate Social Responsibility

By Matthew Gardiner, Trafford Housing Trust

Trafford Housing Trust is an independent housing company managing 9,000 homes in Trafford. We exist to provide a wide range of quality services in the places where our tenants live. Our vision is "to be at the heart of creating neighbourhoods that are safe, clean, with strong communities and are places that people choose to live in." In building our approach to working with communities we have learned a lot about Corporate Social responsibility (CSR); what makes it work, and perhaps more interestingly why it fails. In our experience CSR is something of an imprecise science, requiring constant fine-tuning and trial and error rather than a bold judgement. We decided to pool our knowledge and share with you 10 of the lessons we've learned about CSR.

1. CSR is not a one size fits all. Just because your competitor goes out once a year and clears up a local ‘grot spot’ does not mean that you should do the same. Make CSR strategic. Make it add to your business. Make it something which excites you. Most of all make it something that is part of what you do, not a burden. CSR should be the way in which your business operates to maximise its positive impact, and to minimise any negative impact.

2. Business doesn't operate in isolation. As the main housing provider in Trafford we are rooted in the local neighbourhoods, our customers create a vested interest which may not be as obvious for your business. But think about the issues which are important to your customers, employees, stakeholders, partners and competitors. What matters to them? Your business does not stop at the car park boundary.

3. Don’t underestimate economies of scale. Just two hours a month spent using the core skills of your workforce can make a huge difference to a community. We offer accountancy and human resources support to a handful of local voluntary groups. For a business our size the workload is small but the impact for those groups is massive. To them it makes a real difference.

4. Small businesses can ‘do’ CSR too. There is a common misconception that CSR is only for large corporations with many bodies to spare. But small, medium sized businesses can be make an equally important contribution and as businesses which rely on reputation and word of mouth the return can often be really valuable. As part of our business engagement programme we are working with SMEs, to inject their professional skills, knowledge and entrepreneurship into community organisations. Five local businesses have offered to deliver training sessions relating to their area of expertise, which over 30 community sector organisations will benefit from. This input will deliver real change as community organisations take this expert knowledge away and implement the new practice in their workplace.

5. Responsibility breeds reputation. Increasingly, both consumers and prospective employees cite a company’s ethical practice as a deciding factor as to whether they will engage with it, or not. More and more it is important to engage on an emotional, not just commercial level. We all know that our workforce is our life blood. A 2011 Business in the Community study cited recruitment and retention of quality employees as a key benefit associated with responsible business practice. Quality employees want to develop in their roles, and providing them with opportunities to do so which compliment the day job can be a real pull, and stay, factor.

6. Don’t automatically reach for the paintbrush. Perceptions of corporate volunteering often involve teams painting community centres or clearing out overgrown gardens. As valuable as these activities can be there is a new breed of employee volunteering growing; ‘skills based volunteering’ uses the professional skills of employees to contribute to the community in a sustainable manner. This model creates benefits for both businesses and community groups but with minimal impact on the day-to-day running of the business. Particularly in demand in Trafford are marketing and communications expertise, business development and planning skills and financial savvy.

7. Open your eyes to soft skill development. Employee volunteering schemes can help to utilise and develop your workforce. A skills matrix we developed for volunteering opportunities in Trafford shows that roles such as fundraising teams, business planning mentor or community project leader help to develop a wide range of soft skills which the day job cannot always provide. These skills include working in a team, effective communication, planning, creative thinking and leadership. All the skills which we write on our job descriptions and look for in the next generation of managers. All available to develop outside of expensive in house training and with a social benefit to boot.

8. Charitable organisations are not only interested in your wallet. As much as they welcome charitable donations, it is the long term relationships which generate the most benefit for both parties. Give them your best and you may be surprised at the benefits.

9. CSR is not a one way street. It’s easy to assume that the community sector is in need but can't give you anything back but in reality the sector has a lot to offer. If you look at the voluntary sector in Trafford it is constantly changing, adapting to meet the customer need, finding new ways of doing things, building strong partnerships and reaching those people in society who are hardest to engage. The influence of these organisations is huge.

10. Nothing beats that warm, fuzzy feeling. Of course corporate social responsibility can’t just be about cold, sterile business matters. It has to be about the greater good, so find an issue to tackle that means something to you and your workforce. How many of your employees have caring responsibilities? How many are affected by mental health disorders either directly or indirectly? How many already volunteer and in what capacity? Ultimately, CSR comes down to people. People doing what is right, for the right reasons to make a difference. Whether big or small your business has huge potential to help to make that difference.

We are still learning and we want to hear from you. What are your experiences of CSR? What is working or not working for your business? Our business engagement officer Aine Graven is hosting an informal discussion group ‘tea and CSR’, if you are interested in coming along or want to learn more contact her on 0300 777 7777 or by email

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Flying Visit to London

By Emma Antrobus, Transport Policy Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

On Monday, I went to give evidence to the Transport Select Committee on aviation capacity, based on the Chamber’s submission made in Autumn 2012, which included views from our members.

Although I have visited the House of Commons many times, I have never given evidence before and was somewhat nervous, although I was not alone on the panel being grilled by MPs – alongside me there was Jerry Blackett, the Chief Executive of Birmingham Chamber; Garry Clark, Head of Policy at Scottish Chambers; and Paul Gilbert who is the Chairman of Liverpool Chamber’s International Chamber.

Despite the snowy conditions, my train journey was uneventful and I arrived early at the Houses of Parliament. After a little game of ‘spot the famous face’ through the corridors and central lobby, I went to sit in on the previous evidence session with speakers from City of London Corporation, London First,  CBI, IoD, and Mike Spicer from British Chambers. There was a lot of focus on wider economic implications of aviation, and particularly the capacity constraints of the South East airports.

Then it was my turn. There were five members of the Transport Select Committee in attendance for this section, including two Manchester MPs, one each from the Midlands and London, and chaired by Louise Ellman MP from Liverpool. The first question was looking for specific examples of businesses affected by constrained capacity in aviation, and responses focused largely on the desire of business travellers to access direct flights from their local airports. Last year, around 200,000 passengers from the North West flew to Hong Kong – widely recognised as the gateway to China – despite there being no direct flight from Manchester or anywhere in the North West. I made the point that businesses will continue to operate but the lack of convenience and time costs will impact on their profitability. 

In discussing Air Passenger Duty, the entire panel were in agreement on the potential benefits to regional airports of variations in APD, particularly to support the use of spare capacity whilst the South East airports are so congested. I quoted the example of Air Asia X who were looking to start a service from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur but were deterred by the level of APD and now operate the route from Paris – when taken in the context of Malaysia’s economy which is growing at 4.6% per year and that 74% of global economic growth is expected in the “developing” countries in Asia and South America. These are opportunities that we cannot afford to miss out on.

The role of HS2 in transforming the need for short haul flights was discussed – we are currently awaiting the details of the route to Manchester and Leeds, and hoping that there will be a station at Manchester Airport.

The issue of surface access was also considered. Manchester Airport is quite well connected to the rest of the transport network, certainly in comparison to other airports. But I made the point that the country is in desperate need of a fully integrated transport strategy that means that different modes are complementary and offer credible alternatives for travellers.

And then, the time was up. The session had flown by and the panel decamped to the corridor outside for a rapid debrief. I felt confident that I had acquitted myself reasonably well and made most of the key points that I wanted to make. Next trial was a trip on the underground at rush hour followed by the stampede for the first Manchester train after the peak hour had finished at Euston. There is still much work to be done on transport .......!  

Friday, 11 January 2013

Friday Guest Blog - Steering Your Employees in the Right Direction

By Karen Baron, Business Management Consultant at Stephensons Solicitors LLP

Road safety is a significant concern in Britain, with the latest figures highlighting an increase in the number of road deaths to 25,023 from 24,510 in 2010 – the first annual increase since 1994.

All drivers have rights and responsibilities when it comes to being safe on the road. But for businesses in particular, road accidents could have a real impact on the company.   

The majority of businesses use company vehicles in some shape or form. From those who ask their staff to use their own vehicles to those with fleets of vehicles on the road. Many businesses will know that if a traffic accident or offence occurs, they could be held vicariously liable.

In fact, up to a third of road accidents involve someone who is driving for work purposes. So it’s really important to manage road risks and minimise the chances of being involved in criminal proceedings as a result of a drivers actions.

So what can businesses do to protect themselves? First and foremost, when recruiting drivers, ask them to complete and sign a driver declaration form, stating that they must drive within road traffic laws, take part in any assessment/training programmes and co-operate with monitoring, reporting and investigation procedures.

Put in place a driver’s policy, or check it’s up to date it if you already have one in place. Give it to all staff when they join the business.

When was the last time you checked your drivers’ insurance, driving licence and MOT documents? Put in place regular checks to ensure they’re valid. Likewise, is the vehicle they’re using fit for purpose?

It’s not just the vehicles which should be in good condition. The health of your drivers is also important. Their eyesight must satisfy the Highway Code requirements and as a responsible business, you should encourage them to have regular eye tests.

It’s also worth ensuring that management are aware of their responsibilities, they can help to feed down the message to all staff about what’s expected of them while they’re on the road.

This is not an exhaustive list but I hope it will drive home the message that businesses can limit the risk of being involved in a road accident or traffic offence by steering their staff in the right direction.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Guest Blog - When the Fire Risk Assessor Calls

By Bill Armstrong of Armstrong Fire Management Ltd                                               

The law of the land* is that if you employ more than four persons, or if you need a licence to do what you do in your premises, you need a written Fire Risk Assessment. That’s what we do, Fire Risk Assessments.

You should worry if you haven’t made sure you’ve put all reasonable fire precautions in place; the courts come down like the proverbial “ton of bricks” when something goes wrong. When I go out to a premises I can never be sure what’s going to arise.

This building used to be a deep freeze store, click here to see inside. (The occupiers have agreed I can discuss the problems arising but we don’t want to reveal their name). Note the lack of windows.

They were hardly likely to put windows in when the place was a deep freeze store. One side is attached to the next building. And this building is big – a 35 metre square with four levels. 

Storage was jammed from floor to ceiling. The more they store, the more income they generate, which is what the business is all about. When the place finally warmed up after years of being frozen, part of the ceiling collapsed. This revealed what’s up there – a layer of expanded polystyrene with two layers of cork above, all designed to provide the insulation necessary to maintain low temperatures.

The cork is still in place and there are masses of expanded polystyrene still up there. A fire involving these materials would be ferocious. Bearing in mind that the ceilings have not collapsed in other areas, all these materials are still in place and there is a huge potential for production of heat and smoke in a fire. The ceiling is absolutely the worst place for combustible materials because heat and smoke from a fire rise to ceiling level and spread out, quickly involving any combustibles that are up there. The floors, by the way, are of substantial construction – a stacker truck safely moves around the building.

Is there a significant hazard to persons at work? You bet there is! Ignition hazards are very low in this place – let’s be thankful for that – but if ignition occurs and a fire develops it will roll across the ceilings, possibly faster than people can move to the exits. First priority has to be to remove all those combustibles from the ceilings. This is no joke for the person who will be paying a fortune for disposal of these materials, besides working around the unwanted interruptions to business. There’s no getting away from it though, this is a nettle the Fire Risk Assessor has to grasp: this message cannot be softened.

A fire occurred in Woolworth’s in Manchester in 1979. Display furnishings caught fire and heat and smoke rolled across the fairly low ceiling so quickly that people nearby couldn’t make it to the exits. The above scenario is worse than the Woolworth’s one because the ceiling linings would contribute additional energy to a fire. The above scenario is also worse because of the lack of windows. There is nowhere for the heat and smoke to ventilate away. Even with removal of all that cork and polystyrene, the fire hazard is still a high one.

What can be recommended to mitigate the problems and reduce the hazards? Best answer is a sprinkler system, so any fire is controlled long enough for the Fire Brigade to make it safe. Install windows or some form of extract ventilation. Install a fire detection system. Take all the insulation away from the walls. Do we see any easy or inexpensive answers here?

There was a lot more fine detail in the Fire Risk Assessment, but this particular place threw up unique and almost insurmountable problems. It is still a nightmarish thought that if fire occurs in the building as is it, fire-fighters might not be able to gain access. High expansion foam would be considered, but without an exit path for the smoke the foam won’t go in. I would envisage a man with a crane and a demolition ball being brought in to start knocking a few holes in the building – fire-fighting would be that difficult. I was once a fire-fighter, stationed just down the road from this place. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Makes me shudder, actually!

In the end, it is our skill, expertise and experience as Fire Risk Assessors that our clients rely on. We find the best cost-effective answers to problems for our clients.

Bill Armstrong is a former Greater Manchester Fire Service Fire Safety Officer and is a Fire Risk Assessor, registered with the Institute of Fire Prevention Officers. He is a Member of the Institute of Fire Prevention Officers and of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers. Visit and look at “Bill's Blog” for some good old fireman’s yarns.

* Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, if you really need to know. (Articles 8 – 24 specify the duties of the “Responsible Person”).