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

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Chamber Blog: An Audience with Mr Clegg

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

On Tuesday, a small group of local business owners and I had the pleasure of a lunchtime roundtable with Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister. The DPM was in town to announce the launch of a new pot of funding, £50m, to start to tackle the issue of youth unemployment. The event, put together by local MP John Leech, was a chance to give some direct feedback, on a range of issues, directly to the top levels of government.

As is usually the case with these types of events, Chatham House rules were the order of the day so unfortunately I’m not at liberty to give a word by word account of the verbal sparring that took place – not that there were too many contentious issues raised, although there were some areas that we agreed to disagree on. On the whole, it was an intelligent exchange of views on subjects as diverse as the future energy needs of the UK (Nuclear to fracking) through to the level and effectiveness of the various schemes set up by the coalition to help ease credit conditions for business. There were also a few issues which the DPM said he would raise with relevant departments and come back to us on, so watch this space.

One of the key areas I was interested in hearing about, was the recent government policy shifts moving away from a “place based” strategy to a more sector- focused approach through what is known in government circles as the Industrial Strategy. The Chamber’s skills work – putting funding for training directly into employers’ hands – is part of the City Deal for Greater Manchester and very much focused on making the most of what local businesses need here, within Greater Manchester. Yes, there are sector considerations to this, but first and foremost it is about strengthening the local economy. By moving to a sector-reliant delivery model, there is a real risk that some businesses will miss out.

I’m not proposing that it’s one or the other, and recognise that things must adapt and change to remain effective, but it is crucial that a sense of balance is maintained. Yes, we need our locally strong sectors to remain so, but not at the expense of those businesses that operate in different markets. Yes, we need to have clear leadership on those sectors that, as a country, we could and should be leading the world on, but we also have to make sure that those benefits ripple out through the wider economy. The key activity and innovation will be where the two strategies collide – the top down national sector-led approach, meeting the bottom-up local business demands.

This may sound a bit like having your cake and eating it (no we didn’t get dessert on Tuesday), but it is possible and essential in an economy such as we have in Greater Manchester.

As the lead architect of City Deals and someone with a Northern city constituency in Sheffield, it was interesting and reassuring to hear that Mr Clegg seemed to think so too.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday Blog: Newsnight in Eccles – An Alternative View

By Dr John Ashcroft, Chief Economist at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

This week, Newsnight’s Paul Mason visited Eccles to investigate the economic recovery and how it is affecting job growth in the North West. Eccles, why choose Eccles?

Well, we learned, there are 77 outlets selling alcohol within one kilometre along the high street. Do the maths, that’s one every 12 metres. Pawn shops and betting shops can be used to break up the pub crawl and provide additional funding en route. So, Paul asks, what can we do to restore the Eccles high street to its former glory?

It will take ten years, real jobs and training in skills to begin to restore the balance says Alec McFadden, from the Salford Unemployed Community Centre. There is no quick fix! Quite right, Alec. Alec has been engaged with this problem for some time now.

Eccles is what we call in economics “a structural problem” says the BBC presenter. No it’s not; it is representation of social deprivation in a specific area of Greater Manchester. It is also an example of what can happen to a high street when the Trafford Centre, two retail parks, a Costco, B & Q, Asda and Marks and Spencer open up within a ten-minute drive.

Newsnight could have made a visit to MediaCityUK, a great example of job creation and infrastructure investment into the new dynamic growth areas of digital and creative media. After all, it’s only ten minutes away by tram, a great example of infrastructure investment in Greater Manchester, part of the Transport for Greater Manchester Plan. Whilst there, Paul Mason could have visited the Salford University New Media Campus, after all Manchester has one of the largest university student populations in Europe. He could have arrived by plane, reminding viewers we have just bought Stansted. Had he done so, he would have passed the Airport Enterprise Zone en route within sight of the new Medi Park, both on track to create a substantial number of new jobs over the next five years within Greater Manchester.

On the way up to Manchester, Paul was in the Midlands to visit BSA Machine Tools. Now with 35 workers, Paul wanted to understand the constraints to growth. BSA Cycles Ltd and BSA Guns Ltd, also in Birmingham, once controlled 67 factories, employed 28,000 people and contained 25,000 machine tools. The now much smaller BSA Machine tools was struggling to expand again because of a lack of skilled labour and access to finance. Shocking, the problem - labour skills and those banks again.

Paul claimed: “It was said the recovery would be led by industry and exports to rebalance the economy.” Not really, the march of the makers rebuilding the workshop of the world was always a Whitehall dream. Most economists never really believed that anyway.

Will the problems of capacity constraints in Birmingham and Eccles lead to low growth in the UK economy as a whole? he asked. Of course not. Job creation continues at pace in the private sector. The problems exposed in this report are not “structural” problems; they are snap shots and create misleading perceptions of economic reality. Surely we can expect a little more than “it’s grim up North”? We expect a programme that shows a much more balanced view and avoids dangerous generalisations.

Missed the show? Watch it here and tell us your views: 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Friday Guest Blog: The Green Deal, Explained

By Andrew Allmark - Managing Director, Whitecroft Green Ltd

The Green Deal was launched on 1st October 2012 by the current UK Government as an initiative to help both homeowners and businesses to lower their carbon footprint with access to green technologies in a more affordable way – by paying back the costs through energy bills.

Essentially a finance agreement which stays with the property rather than the individual or business paying the bills, the Green Deal can be used to pay for energy-saving measures such as solar panels, wind or air source pumps (collectively known as onsite energy micro generation), double glazing, loft, cavity or solid wall insulations, or even a new boiler, with the ‘Golden Rule’ being that you shouldn’t pay back more than the energy savings being made.

You can apply to be assessed for suitability for the Green Deal (at a potential cost of up to £100) by an accredited Green Deal provider which can include energy companies, retailers and tradespeople that install such green technologies, however they must have been awarded the Green Deal Quality Mark.
Whilst homeowners have been able to utilise the incentive since 28th January 2013, commercial businesses will have access to the initiative from January 2014.

The Four-stage Process Explained

1.      The Assessment
As briefly mentioned above, you will need to first of all have your property assessed which will include a review of elements such as the construction and heating, against your usage requirements. Once this has been carried out, the assessor will produce an Occupancy Assessment and Green Deal Advice Report.

2.      The Agreement
Should your Green Deal application for the property be approved, an agreement will be drawn up as a contact to provide energy saving improvements. Your Green Deal Plan will outline your financial commitment based on the ‘Golden Rule’ reviewing the savings generated by each of the energy-efficient measures against a maximum payback period of 25 years. It will also stipulate the ongoing obligations of the provider, including dealing with customer complaints and providing information when a new bill payer moves into a property with a Green Deal.

As a financial agreement, the contract will outline amongst other things, the interest rate applied by the provider therefore it is essential that you understand the repayment rules before signing the agreement.

3.      Installation
All of the energy-saving systems must be installed by a Green Deal provider that has been accredited with the Green Deal Quality Mark, however in most cases stages 1 and 2 as described above would have already been carried out by such a provider and this is also usually the organiser of the installation if not the installer themselves.

For a list of approved Green Deal providers, or if you are a tradesperson wishing to become a Green Deal provider, please click here.

4.      Repayment
As explained earlier, under the Green Deal repayment of the energy-saving systems put in place occurs through your energy bills, for example a small proportion is added to your daily meter reading.

In considering an application for the Green Deal, you should be mindful that it is a long-term financial product, and that although a useful method to implement energy-saving technologies to your building, the Green Deal is not necessarily the cheapest route so please check other options available to you.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Businesses are Overpaying on Postage

By David Hymers, Managing Director at Totalpost Services Plc

There was a bit of a backlash from small businesses following the April change in Royal Mail postage rates. Understandably, many businesses feared that increases in parcel rates could have a negative impact on their business.

However now that the dust has settled, how are businesses coping?

Since the rate change came in Totalpost has been visiting local companies to advise if savings can be made. When visiting a client we always looks to undertake a full mailroom audit to enable an understanding of the level of postage required.

Surprisingly we have found that many businesses have been overpaying on their postage, effectively putting more stamps on packages than is required as they had been sending items as Packet Post and not as Large Letters for example.

For example one customer was spending £2.36 for the majority of the mail that was being sent, they were overpaying by £1.12, simply because they had not been given the support by their current supplier and had not really understood how the Royal Mail pricing system works. They had been sending what was a Large Letter item with weight between 251-500g using the Packet item tariff 0-750g. When the new tariff came into use in April they had thought they would be spending £2.65 each time using the Small Parcel 0-1kg. When Totalpost audited their usage we advised that by making a slight adjustment in the envelope being used and switching to the correct postage they would be making savings of £1.03 against what they had been paying and £1.32 against the new tariff for 2013. Therefore they went from a scenario whereby they thought postage was going to cost them more, to a situation where their costs actually decreased.

This is an issue that we are seeing time and time again within businesses of all sizes. There is a lot of confusion about the different postage sizes and rates and sadly businesses are wasting money as a result. We advise businesses to check postage restrictions again and to consult with their mailroom services provider if clarification is needed.

Unlike a lot of mailroom suppliers, Totalpost’s mailroom experts spend most of their lives in clients’ mailrooms, from this we pick up ideas and pass this information and education on to other customers that we work with. We understand that for a lot of businesses mail is important but perhaps not as important as all those other jobs that have to be done in order for a business to flourish. That’s why we can help clients simply by making a suggestion such as “Why don’t you change that envelope type to this option and whilst your at it can’t that item be folded.” Other suppliers have stopped visiting clients and choose now to do business over the phone. Totalpost prefers that option as a last resort as things can be missed whilst we sit at the other end of a phone.

Mailroom audits are part of the service provided by Totalpost. This gives us a chance to visit customers and ensure that they are getting the best value for money.

To find out more get in touch with Totalpost Tel: 0845 4900360 or visit

Friday, 5 July 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Unleashing Your Team's Creativity

By Lee Parker, Co-Founder

A company is only as good as the people that make it up. It’s a saying that’s certainly banded around frequently enough, though probably not examined by business leaders as much as it should be.

A follow-up from the saying could probably read something like …and most people will only be as good as they have to be. In other words, if your employees don’t feel stimulated by their work and surroundings, they will only put in the absolute minimum they must to get through another day – which is hardly the formula for business success!

The thing is, a lot of companies take the saying too literally. They think harvesting the savviest, most technical minds to work for them is alone enough to set them apart from competitors. But there’s more to business longevity and success than simply cherry-picking the ripest candidates and hoping there’s enough juice in them to leverage the company to a new and exciting level.
Companies must not only hire the finest candidates on the block, but also encourage their creativity and desire to consistently shine through whilst on the job. And to help with just that, we’ve put together a few great tips to get you started…
1. Set the Scene
Monet didn’t paint his water lilies whilst sitting in a bleak and lifeless environment; he was inspired by his surroundings. Okay, I know it’s not feasible to turn your office into a replica of an 1800’s watercolour painting, but there are some things you can do that will stimulate your employees’ creativity!
Things like comfy seats, a healthy consideration for the interior design and keeping things looking generally fresh and engaging can work wonders. If you have the budget, you could even try making a ‘creative’ zone in the office, with bean-bags, white-boards, a coffee machine and a few inspirational quotes plastered to the wall.
2. Get Everyone Involved
Sometimes it takes more than one person to conceptualise something brilliant. Good teamwork and communication skills are essential assets for creative work-force to have.
Encourage the whole crew to chip in with their ideas during planned creative sessions, no matter how whacky or outlandish they may seem. Different people view things from alternate angles, so what may seem like a crazy thought to one person, could be the switch that triggers a breakthrough in another.
If your staff feels like their ideas are worth listening to, they’ll undoubtedly dig much deeper within themselves to contribute something special and unleash their creative potential.
3. Allow Time for Ideas to Mature
Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they (all!) say. An idea is very much like a seed, it needs the right conditions and time for it to bloom into a fully-fledged reality. Don’t put a halt to an employee’s creative process if it doesn’t come to fruition straight away, but allow it time to breath and mature.

And Finally…
You need the right staff. Nothing beats having a great, creative and motivated team that can drive your business forward, so it makes sense to bring in the best possible people to help steer your company in the right direction. can provide you with all the tools you need to do just this, including effective job advertising across over 70 of the UK leading job boards.

For more information, visit

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Guest Blog: Helping small businesses get ahead

Simon Allport, North West Senior Partner of global professional services firm Ernst & Young LLP, who advises businesses on how to improve their performance, draws on the thoughts of successful business leaders he has met…

Through my involvement in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year awards, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most inspiring business people in the North West. While no two firms are the same, paying closer attention to certain areas can really help small businesses get ahead.

Get your house in order

Time and time again small businesses – especially in their formative years – struggle to balance pursuing their business goals with keeping an eye on the numbers. Winning new customers is important, but paying due diligence to the company’s financials holds equal rank. Good internal controls set a solid foundation for growth. Regular financial reporting provides a fuller picture of how the business is fairing: what are its strengths, weaknesses and areas of opportunity. Maintaining financial discipline ensures the firm will not ‘overtrade’, which puts strain on working capital.

Invest in people

The best career advice I ever received was to surround myself with talented people. That doesn’t just mean hire the best and brightest, but assess where your company is weakest and improve areas most lacking in talent and relevant expertise.

The art of delegation is critical in business. Assigning work to employees based on their skills, especially in the areas you aren't as strong, will free up your time to focus on developing the business’ wider strategy. Incentivise employees to perform. Not only will they go the extra mile, but staff retention will improve, reducing training and recruitment costs.

Explore other sources of capital

One of the most pertinent issues to small businesses owners and managers is gaining access to finance. The economic climate is certainly challenging at the moment and as a result banks are more cautious than ever. However I urge current businesses or would-be entrepreneurs not to be deterred.

If the traditional route of securing a bank loan proves difficult, don’t give up – explore other options. There are multiple alternative funding options out there which can help your business to grow. Not-for-profit organisations, such as Business Finance Solutions, are there to help in providing advice and access to a range of other sources of finance.

Don’t stand still

Networking with others in your local business community is invaluable, so you can learn from their experience and create commercial opportunities. As a small business owner it can be easy to get so caught up in your own day-to-day activity that you lose sight of the wider picture. Others in your local area or sector will have faced similar challenges and can often provide really constructive guidance. Make use of public resources too, such as the government’s GREAT Business website ( which includes advice and links to other sources of help.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, keeping these points in mind will help your business go from strength to strength.

Simon is North West Senior Partner at Ernst & Young and Non Executive Chairman of ‘not for profit' organisation Business Finance Solutions (BFS).