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

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Chamber Blog: In, Out, UKIP Shake it all about….

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

It would have been nigh on impossible over the last few weeks to have missed what could turn out to be a pivotal point in British politics and one that could have a significant impact at the next election and beyond. The rise of UKIP has long been in the making and the electorate, looking at the current hand of cards they’ve been dealt, seem to have been attracted by what they see and hear. Whether UKIP will make the same impression in 2015 at the election or whether this is another “protest” party that does well at certain points in the electoral cycle is yet to be decided. What is important though is the immediate impact this has had.

As a comment in a newspaper noted recently, as UKIP has no MPs, with the Conservative back benchers (and, indeed, Ministers) making all their right noises, does this matter? The old wounds have been opened again and the Prime Minister suddenly finds himself at the eye of the storm which is increasing daily.

What does this mean to business? A huge amount to be honest and some people may not like what they hear. A recent British Chambers of Commerce survey showed that 62% of businesses felt that withdrawal from Europe would have a negative impact on the country. So the majority would see benefit in staying, however 65% of respondents said that a transfer of some powers back to Westminster would have a positive impact. Maybe a case of having your cake and eating it but far from a call to abandon ship.

Sitting, as we do, under the EU umbrella does have its advantages, especially as regards trade. The EU is the largest trading bloc in the World. If we left the EU, how easy would it be to renegotiate all the trade agreements? Would we need to? With the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership in the making between the US and the EU it could be said that now may not be the best time to be having second thoughts about our relationship with Europe? A point made recently and obliquely by President Obama. The US is still the UK’s primary overseas market, what would be the knock-on effect of an EU pull out on this? It’s hard to say, isn’t it?

This is an issue we will come back to – it’s impossible to ignore - but what we cannot allow it to become is a football for the political class to kick around on one pitch, whilst the rest of us have to focus on the “real” stuff such as the economy, growth and employment.

This has been taken from the June edition of 53 Degrees, which will be published shortly. We are also continuing the conversation on Europe via our LinkedIn group, Greater Manchester Chamber. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Inspiring a Generation

By James Clarke of The Apprentice Academy

Young people are our future and yet for many young people leaving education and looking to enter careers, it can’t be very inspiring at the moment.  Personally I am an optimist, however when you switch on the news there is the constant talk of youth unemployment, as well as the umbrella of social issues which have been linked to young people.

I believe young people have so much potential – they just need nurturing. Yes, young people aren’t perfect but who is?  I very much agree it is important young people take ownership for their future, however I also believe that they need inspiring and that is the job of the people who will need them in the future e.g. employers.   If we want them to be motivated, then first they need to know what ‘success’ looks like in the world of work not just reality TV actors and pop stars.   If we can inspire young people, then there is a much higher chance of them having aspirations. Have a look at Aspiration on Wikipedia – it relates to Hope and Ambition.

I was lucky enough to be part of a 5 day trip out to California to visit 12 amazing organisations including LinkedIn, Google and Salesforce. We even got to go to Stanford and Berkley Universities which was truly inspiring. The lecturers were like Brian Cox on steroids (and I actually think Brian Cox is brilliant).   So how does this relate to young people in the UK? Well, before I went out to the US, I always wanted to do well, however there was a missing ingredient which was seeing it in real life. I’d read lots about successful businesses and watched hours of Steve Job videos posted on U Tube but had never actually been in a world class environment. It’s true that we do have work experience in this country but if I was honest for the vast majority it isn't high end - the type that is inspiring and ignites a spark to achieve success.  I also know the type of work experience which adds value is time intensive for employers. It got me thinking, what about taking the concept of my trip to the US – I only spent 2 hours with each company but it was enough just to see it in real life.  Going to the US might be a stretch (for the moment!!) however there are some truly brilliant places in Manchester ranging from highly innovative SME’s, to world class Blue Chips, through to UK leading public sector organisations and charities. There is so much talent out there to inspire these young people.

It is so important that each young person gets to see the real world of work – if they do, then maybe they might have that extra motivation to work hard at school and do well in their GCSEs.  The thing is, for business to succeed it needs fresh talent and these young people are our future, not just a problem for the government or someone else. If you are interested in being part of inspiring a generation, please contact Jim Clarke, MD at the Apprentice Academy on 0161 200 1673 or email   This project is part of a social enterprise we have set up called One Mile Project which is about linking young people with the businesses that are within walking distance from where they live.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Chamber Blog: Evening with the EU Transport Committee

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

Last week Tim Bentley, MD of Alstom, the Chamber’s patron member, and I met with the European Transport Committee on their visit to the North of England. Committee members from Italy, Belgium, France, Germany and Greece came on a fact-finding tour that took in developments at Manchester Airport, the National Rail Museum at York and the Mersey Posts developments in Liverpool. Tim and I met with them over a traditional Lancashire meal (including Heinz baked beans produced in Wigan, homemade pie and mushy peas, and crème brulee with the brulee made with Uncle Joe’s mint balls, also produced in Wigan).

Whilst the storm continues to rage over the UK’s membership of the EU, the Transport Committee, which is chaired by Brian Simpson MEP, continues to highlight the strength of a collective approach on strategic issues. Transport is vitally important for the economy, the ability to move people and goods fundamental to the growth of businesses. But, to be effective at supporting the economy, our transport networks need to cross borders – whether that is from Greater Manchester into Cheshire, Merseyside and Yorkshire, or the UK to mainland Europe or further afield.

Some of the work that the Committee has undertaken over the years includes the introduction of the denied boarding compensation for airline passengers, promotion of cleaner engines for buses and lorries, and developing a standard rail signalling system.

Discussions over dinner centred on the fourth railway package and inter-operability between rail networks. This is particularly pertinent when discussing the UK’s HS2 project for a new rail network to provide much-needed capacity and allow for that new network to connect the North of England directly to mainland Europe. Currently the Channel Tunnel is under-utilised but the access charges are high which acts as a barrier to other train operators.

The other issue is that UK railways are built to a different loading gauge which means that our infrastructure cannot accommodate standard European size trains – generally UK bridges are too low and platforms too high. This means that any rolling stock built for the UK is bespoke, resulting in higher unit costs as we cannot employ any economies of scale ordering standard units.

Overall, what I learnt was that the UK is respected across Europe for its transport heritage, its record in attracting private investment into transport and that every country is keen to have good connectivity to support their economies whilst protecting their local interests.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Friday Guest Blog - Spanish: Connecting people

By Iñaki Abad, Director of Instituto Cervantes Manchester-Leeds

In today’s society language skills are a powerful tool, not only for learning about other cultures and communicating with others, but also on a professional level and in the world of business. A recent study by The Guardian newspaper showed that British companies competing in a highly globalized market, place great value on the knowledge of languages amongst their employees. One third of these companies specifically seek out professionals with language skills to join their workforce. To speak a foreign language opens up professional opportunities in the labour market.

There is no doubt that in this world run by people, for people, to speak a foreign language will save a company money, given that it drastically reduces costs and time taken to translate information, analysis, negotiation, handling contracts and customers. Also, staff capable of communicating in foreign language increase revenue, as a company will thrive if it can provide products and services in the language where there is a demand.

There are currently almost 500 million people who live and work in Spanish and it is recognised as the official language in 21 countries worldwide.
 In addition to this, 10% of the population in the USA speaks Spanish, and it is the second most spoken language in the country. By 2050, the USA is predicted to be the leading Spanish speaking country in the world with a third of the population speaking Spanish. Similarly, in the world of new technology, Spanish is the third most used language online and has increased by 807% in the last decade. To speak Spanish opens doors to companies in the USA, online and in the most part of the American continent. Spanish gives companies a competitive and dynamic edge when increasing volume and turnover. In other words, speaking Spanish is profitable.

Instituto Cervantes is a public organisation, linked with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the aim to promote the language and culture of Spain and Latin America abroad. It is present in 77 cities and 44 countries across the 5 continents and relies on highly skilled staff worldwide. All teachers receive regular training to maintain an excellent level of teaching standards to meet the needs of our students. This is complemented by a series of services such as cultural events and a library.  As a world leader in teaching Spanish for business, we have developed our own educational programmes; online platforms and course content. The trust placed in us by universities, multinational companies and other organisations, further endorses the Instituto Cervantes as the most reliable and steadfast option for learning Spanish.

Instituto Cervantes was established at 326 Deansgate in 1996. Each year more than 2500 students pass through our classrooms where we offer courses for all levels throughout the day.  At the Instituto Cervantes, Manchester you are guaranteed to learn Spanish in a quick, efficient, communicative way and to connect with a world full of professional and commercial possibilities.