Export growth slows down

UK export growth continued to slow at the end of 2015, with manufacturers in particular struggling, a report from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and DHL has shown.

Export sales and orders across both manufacturing and services sectors fell significantly in the last quarter of 2015, according to the latest Quarterly International Trade Outlook.

The survey’s Trade Confidence Index, measuring the volume of trade documentation issued, fell by 2.5% on Q4 2014 to stand at 114.46 in Q4 2015 – a decline of 0.9% on Q3 2015.

Among manufacturers, the balance of firms reporting improvements in export sales over the previous three months fell from +10% in Q3 to just +1% – the lowest level since Q3 2009 – while export orders dropped from +10% to +1%.

Export growth also dipped in the services sector, where the sales balance fell three points to +15%, and export orders fell to +9% from +16% – the lowest level since Q4 2011.

The key findings from the report are:
•         The Trade Confidence Index, a measure of the volume of trade documentation issued nationally, fell by 0.9% on Q3 2015, and by 2.5% on Q4 2014 – the index now stands at 114.46
•         The largest increases in export document volumes were in the North East (7.07%), Scotland (5.76%), and Northern Ireland (5.11%)
•         The biggest declines in export document volumes were in the West Midlands (-7.46%), the North West (-6.24%), and the East Midlands (-4.18%)
•         From the BCC’s survey, the balance of manufacturers reporting improved export sales fell markedly to +1% in Q4 2015 from +10% the previous quarter, and export orders growth fell to +1% in Q4 2015 from +10% in Q3 2015
•         The balance of services firms reporting improved export sales over the past three months fell to +15% in Q4 2015 from +18% in Q3 2015, and export orders growth fell to +9% in Q4 2015 from +16% in Q3 2015
John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“British exporters have faced considerable challenges in recent months. Slowing growth in China and the US, along with the continued weakness in the Eurozone, have made it harder for firms to build momentum.

“While the rate of growth has dropped significantly, exports are continuing to grow – a testament to British businesses, particularly in the face of such global uncertainty.

“However, if we are to reverse our longstanding trade deficit then British firms need greater practical support – access to finance, a skilled workforce and good infrastructure connections – if they are to successfully break into new export markets, and this needs to be a national priority for the UK otherwise we risk being left behind in the global race.”

Phil Couchman, CEO, DHL Express UK, said:

“Some areas of the UK – in particular Scotland, the North East and Northern Ireland – are showing strong growth in export volumes. However, with most regions experiencing declining volumes and the UK’s trade gap recently reaching an all-time high, it’s more important than ever that we concentrate on supporting more British businesses to export.

“The UK’s relentless demand for imported goods means that we need to work hard to significantly boost exports and strike the right balance.

“As the UK focuses its efforts on exporting as a way of securing the future of our economy, DHL will continue to support businesses and ensure that more and more organisations feel comfortable in taking that first step overseas.”

Ends

Notes to editors:

The BCC’s Annual Conference, entitled Decision Time: New Politics, New Economy, New Britain? Is taking place on 3 March 2016 at the QEII Conference Centre. For more information or to register for a free press pass, please visit www.bccconference.co.uk or contact the press office.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) sits at the heart of a powerful network of 52 Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK, representing thousands of businesses of all sizes and within all sectors. For more information visit: www.britishchambers.org.uk

Lake gets ‘best of breed’

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Inc. (C40) has selected LAKE Financial Systems to implement a new finance system based on Infor SunSystems software. SunSystems was chosen as the ‘best of breed’ solution for the growing international not-for-profit organisation. C40 selected LAKE for their partnership approach to system implementation and experience in the not-for-profit sector.

Best of Breed

The choice of a new finance system went hand in hand with establishing a new finance team, based in London. Amy Gutcher, Head of Finance for C40 explains their approach to system selection and reasons for choosing SunSystems:

“We were establishing a team in London and we had an open mind as to which system to choose. I talked to a number of other charities and alongside my online research, identified 5 possible systems.

Early in the process it became apparent that we would need to choose between ERP and ‘best of breed’. We chose ‘best of breed’. C40 has grown rapidly and it is crucial to remain flexible, should we, for example, require CRM in the future. With ERP we felt we might have to compromise those requirements. With ‘best of breed’ we can choose the best CRM system, the best finance system and so on.

We chose SunSystems for several reasons. Firstly, it is such an open system, which should enable a straightforward interface with all of our other systems. SunSystems also provides excellent reporting capability – the analysis and multi-currency features are particularly strong. Finally, SunSystems is widely used by organisations similar to C40, which can help with recruitment, as potential applicants will be already familiar with the system.”

Partnership Approach

For C40, the choice of LAKE was an important factor in the selection process. Amy explains:

“Right from the first meeting it was apparent that the team from Lake had a good understanding of our needs and plenty of relevant experience. Also, their partnership approach to system implementation really struck a chord. We felt that here was someone we could work with.”

Adrian Howard, General Manager, for LAKE comments:

“2016 is our 25th year of implementing SunSystems solutions and we have been active in the not for profit sector right from the beginning. Our partnership with C40 represents a further strengthening of our presence in this sector.

SunSystems is particularly well suited to the needs of not for profit organisations. Even more so now that Cloud delivery is an option. By buying into LAKE Cloud, C40 have reduced their reliance on IT support and maintenance, leaving them free to focus on what they do best.”

Please take the survey

Fieldwork is now underway for the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey. We ask that you spare a few minutes to tell us about your current business conditions and help the Chamber’s lobbying activity.

Please click here to complete the survey.

The Chamber is regularly asked for data by MPs, Civil Servants and the Bank of England and by completing the QES you are helping us to make the case for policies that promote business growth and job creation. Please be assured that all the information that you provide will remain completely confidential.

Everyone who completes the survey receives a copy of the report, which provides a comprehensive overview of the economy and can help with your business planning.

Please click here to complete the survey. It will only take a few minutes and it is your opportunity to help shape the future of the region. To read the QES report from the last quarter please click here

EU deal: Potential benefits, but falls well short of expectations

Commenting on the announcement of a deal by the Prime Minister – following months of intense negotiation on the future of the UK’s relationship with the European Union – John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Businesses across Britain will be relieved that the horse-trading between Westminster and Brussels is now concluded, and that the hard work of recent months could potentially deliver some benefits for the UK.  The real test for the Prime Minister’s deal is whether it can deliver tangible benefits.

“On competitiveness, much relies on the Commission’s commitment to deregulation and to concluding meaningful free trade agreements. The necessary widening and deepening of the Single Market remains to be tackled. It is notable that there is no UK-specific opt-out from regulations that are not directly related to trade.

“On sovereignty, success depends on whether the UK opt-out from ‘ever closer union’ actually curbs the expansive jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, whose activism hamstrings British businesses. Ensuring national parliaments, including our own, can actually stop EU proposals they deem damaging, is crucial.

“Safeguards for non-Eurozone countries will only feel real when all our firms – not just those in the City of London – believe that their access to markets and capital is secure. It is not clear if these vital safeguards are guaranteed.  And on the complex and emotive issue of migration, what really matters is whether the UK has tools that allow it to balance the business need for labour and skills with the need for social cohesion. Given that its focus has been restricted just to benefits, the deal cannot substantially address this balance, or the consequent impacts on the UK economy and public policy.

“There is no certainty at this stage whether the deal’s outcomes are legally enforceable and irreversible. What’s more, the deal falls well short of the business expectations we set out nearly a year ago*.   If delivered, this deal would change some aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Yet it is inescapable that, deal or no deal, the EU itself remains largely unreformed. The choice facing businesses and businesspeople across Britain is now becoming clearer. For business, it is a choice between remaining in a largely unchanged EU, albeit with some potential new safeguards for the UK, or a future outside the EU, with the near-term uncertainty and disruption of leaving.”

On the British Chambers of Commerce’s approach to the referendum campaign, Longworth added:

“The BCC will not be campaigning for either Remain or Leave, given the very real divisions that exist in business communities across the UK.  In the months leading up to the referendum, we will actively survey business opinion and inform the debate without fear or favour. Additionally, we will be demanding clear information and facts from both the Remain and Leave campaigns so that businesspeople can make an informed choice at the ballot box.”
* BCC write to David Cameron in 2015 setting out five key priorities for the reform and renegotiation discussions:
1. Guarantees to protect our economic and other interests at a time when decisions are made by and for the Eurozone (and we’ll never  be a member).
2. Sort out the “common market” so that it works for British business. The UK is largely a service sector economy but there is no meaningful internal EU market in services, plus the market in goods is imperfect and unravelling.
3. A cast-iron opt-out to make sure we do not sleepwalk into ‘ever closer union’.
4. Protect our businesses from regulatory burdens, particularly those un-related to trade, with an opt-out if necessary. Most UK economic activity is not directly derived from trade with the rest of the EU — yet all of it is hit by European regulation.
5. A clear and balanced approach to immigration taking into account the need for stability and social cohesion and driven by our skills requirements, meaning businesses can access the talent they need.

LEP invests over £1.5 million into training local businesses

The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have invested over £1.5 million into funded training for businesses through their pioneering skills service.

One business benefitting is D E Ford, a Yorkshire insurance broker where staff have been given the chance to further develop their careers, with the help of funding from the LEP.

The £7,715 LEP grant is being used by D E Ford to provide training and skills development to a number of employees, which will enhance personal development for individuals and develop their skills sets.

D E Ford, a family-run business which specialises in insurance and risk management, currently employs 60 members of staff, 40 of whom underwent the training. The training programme focussed on staff development and will enable employees to deliver a better quality service to customers.

The business has previously been recognised for its careers development, after winning a prestigious Best People Development award in 2015.

Rob Allison, D E Ford’s Operations Director, said: “We approached the LEP because we want to ensure that we have the best structure in place internally to support the career paths of our staff as a part of our process of continuous improvement.

“With the skills service, we’ll have the opportunity to invest in the capabilities of our employees, and ensure that our clients receive an excellent level of service. This will result in a strengthened company reputation, which will in turn help the business to grow.

“We believe our people are vital to the success of our business and through continued and increased investment of resource and funding we will assist the development and improvement of their skills and knowledge which will continue to benefit all of our clients.”

LEP Board member and chair of the skills service management board, said: “We’re delighted that we could provide D E Ford with the funding that the business needs for the next stage of its expansion plan.

“As we approach the one year anniversary of the skills service, the benefits of investing in workforce development have never been clearer. Businesses that undertake training see increased productivity, profitability and staff morale. The LEP is dedicated to ensuring local businesses primed for growth have the skills to succeed and I would urge businesses to take advantage of this opportunity and apply.”

Eric Hawthorn, Chair, Business Innovation and Growth Panel and Managing Director, Radio Design Limited added: “The skills service is part of a wider LEP offering that helps businesses to reach their growth targets. D E Ford approached the LEP to discuss their wider business needs and were signposted to the skills service for support and funding for training. It’s great to really see the LEP’s holistic offer to businesses in action – no matter what a business requires the LEP is here to help. Already we have supported over 500 businesses to develop, and helping firms to train staff and upskill from within is a huge part of facilitating growth.”

To celebrate the anniversary of the LEP’s Skills service which was launched in February 2015, the LEP are hosting a Twitter conversation or “TwitChat” to enable businesses interested in advice on funding for training to ask their questions to a panel of skills advisers and business people who will share their insights on addressing skills shortages and the benefits of investing in training.

The TwitChat will take place on 29th February 12pm – 1pm and businesses can pose their questions to our panel live. Alternatively, you can submit questions in advance of the TwitChat to the LEP’s Twitter account @LeedsCityRegion using the hashtag #LEPskillsadvice.

Rate Review Call to Action

As the government predicts councils will collect a record £23.5 billion in business rates next year, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is calling for bold action in the Budget to fix the fundamentals of a broken and outdated system

At the Autumn Statement in 2015 the government outlined plans to devolve significant control over business rates to local areas, which would see local councils retain all revenue collected in rates, and possibly gain powers to vary rates.

BCC is calling for the business rates review, due to report on Budget Day, to introduce a reformed system with the following features:

• a light-touch annual revaluation regime, to stop businesses being hit hard by an increase every five years;
• the removal of plant and machinery, and micro-generation, from the ratings system, which discourages businesses from investing in their premises;
• the permanent abolition of the annual uplift multiplier, which doesn’t take into account the performance of businesses; and
• the publication of a business taxation review with forward plans for implementing a new regime with a reducing share of business rates revenue as a proportion of overall business taxation.

Dr Adam Marshall, Executive Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“The government has yet to deliver meaningful reform of the business rates system, despite repeated calls from business.

“Ministers have focused too much on devolving rates powers, and too little on addressing the deep-rooted failings of an outdated and poorly-designed system that places a crippling financial burden on many companies.

“The recent focus on changing ‘who controls what’ is the wrong approach when the government has still failed to address deep-seated problems with the current model.

“Business rates hit companies hard before they turn over a single pound, and discourage investment in premises improvements, plant and machinery at a time when we should be encouraging investment in supporting future growth.”

Turley team head to Africa on charity building project

Turley Associate Director Marianne McCallum has this to say about her upcoming trip to do charity work in Sierra Leone.

On 23 February, I head out to Sierra Leone with 10 colleagues to do some charity work. The main focus for our 9-day trip is to do some light building work to help three local charities in the capital city, Freetown. This will be my second time in this crazy country, which is still recovering from the after effects of Ebola.

Our construction projects include building an outdoor kitchen at a school run by ex-boy soldiers (truly inspiration young men), building a clinic on a beach and refurbishing a ward at Waterloo Hospital so it can be returned to the local community following its stint as an Ebola centre. Luckily, they don’t have building regulations, so we only need to use basic DIY skills. Even that is pretty challenging in 30degree Celsius…

The first half of our trip will be spent in a slum area call Kissy, then we move to Bureh beach which is still basic but at least will have clean air! Our hotel is very basic: no running water and intermittent electricity. It’s part of the experience!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been collecting football kits, clothing and other items to share with the charities we visit. Family, friends and contacts have been so generous that I’m in danger of exceeding my 46kg luggage allowance.  We are also fundraising for the building projects as the country doesn’t really manufacture anything, so it imports almost everything at extortionate cost.

If you would like to help with the fundraising or to learn a little more about what we will be up to follow this link: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/turleycharity1

If you want to see what we’re up to, the team will be tweeting about the work we are doing – assuming we have electricity and Wifi…follow @turleycharity.

BCC: Business voting intentions harden as PM seeks final deal

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the senior businesspeople polled in a major new British Chambers of Commerce survey have revealed that the outcome of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation is unlikely to change how they will vote – despite large majorities saying they are familiar with the objectives of the renegotiation package.

Views vary between categories of business with those exporting only to the EU expressing the strongest support for “remain” while those exporting only outside the EU expressing the strongest support for “leave”.
On the eve of crunch Brussels talks expected to result in a deal, the findings from the leading business group demonstrate that the renegotiation process is having little effect on business opinion.

The BCC’s previous survey on Europe, which took place in September 2015 before the renegotiation process began, found that half (50%) of those surveyed would reconsider their voting intentions based on the package of reforms secured by the Prime Minister. The latest survey of over 2,000 senior business leaders was conducted in January 2016 with renegotiation in full swing (before the Tusk draft deal was published) — and saw this percentage decrease to 34%. The BCC’s detailed findings suggest that it is now the referendum itself that is important to businesspeople, rather than any package of reforms secured.

When it comes to how individual businesspeople will vote in a forthcoming referendum, 60% would vote to remain, down slightly from 63% in September, and 30% would vote to leave – up slightly from 27%.

The BCC’s data on voting intentions shows a business community divided based on size and export interests. Those representing large firms are significantly more likely to vote ‘Remain’ than those in small and micro-businesses. Firms’ international orientation is also a major factor, with opinion varying based on whether and where firms export. 

Commenting on the results, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said:
 
“When we last surveyed Chamber members in September, we did not know the detail or ambition of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation package. Now our findings suggest that the renegotiation is having little impact on day-to-day business — or the vote of the BCC’s business community, since many made up their minds before knowing the outcome of negotiations, effectively discounting them as irrelevant.
“Our findings suggest that for businesspeople, this is a question of in or out — not renegotiation. Business remains divided on Europe, and business leaders’ views reflect the size of their firm and their export interests, rather than the current political debate. They are making rational economic choices based on their own interests.
“Our findings are a wake-up call for both the Remain and Leave camps. Neither side can bank on a change to business opinion in the wake of any renegotiation settlement.”

 

Key findings in the survey:

Voting intentions: exporters vs. non-exporters

Both (n=2064) Exporter (n=1120) Non-exporter (n=894)
Vote to stay 59.5 63.7 53.3
Vote to leave 30.1 29.9 34.8
Wouldn’t vote 1 1.4 0.6
Don’t know 9.4 8 11.3

Voting intentions: exporters by export destination

All (n=2064) Exporters to EU only (n=221) Exporters to ROTW only (n=118) Exporters to both (n=781) Don’t export (n=894)
Vote to stay 59.5 76.3 30.7 65.1 53.3
Vote to leave 30.1 15.1 57 25.7 34.8
Wouldn’t vote 1 1 4.9 1 0.6
Don’t know 9.4 7.5 7.4 8.3 11.3

NB – 3 did not specify where they export, and 47 did not answer the question

Voting intentions: by business size (number of employees)

All (n=2064) Micro 0-9 (n=1066) Small 10-49 (n=504) Medium 50-249 (n=282) Large 250+ (n=185)
Vote to stay 59.5 53.9 59.7 68.6 74.7
Vote to leave 30.1 33.5 31.4 22.8 19.8
Wouldn’t vote 1 1.2 0.9 0.5 1.3
Don’t know 9.4 11.4 8.1 8.2 4.2

NB – 27 did not specify the size of their business
BUSINESS KNOWLEDGE

  • Only 7.9% of business leaders said the EU referendum was ‘not at all important’ to their business, compared with 43.3% who said it was ‘very important’
  • Businesspeople are highly exposed to the EU referendum debate, with 66% (up from 51% in September 2015) reading about it at least weekly, and a further 22% every fortnight
  • The majority of business leaders say they are familiar with every objective in the Prime Minister’s renegotiation package: safeguards for non-Euro countries (68%); boosting competitiveness (64%); UK exemption from ever-closer union (70%); and restricting EU migrants’ access to tax credits (81%)

BUSINESS IMPACTS

  • Over eight in 10 business leaders report that the referendum has had no material impacts on orders/sales, recruitment, investment or costs in their business to date.
  • If the UK were to leave the EU, 39% currently expect this would have a negative impact on their overall growth strategy (largely unchanged from the last survey); 36% feel it would have no impact (down from 40%), and 17% believe it would have a positive impact (up from 14%)

VOTING INTENTIONS

  • 60% – a majority – of business leaders would vote to stay in the European Union should the vote take place tomorrow. 30% would vote to leave
  • 12% say the PM’s renegotiation was ‘very likely’ to influence their vote; 22% ‘somewhat likely’; 63% ‘unlikely’  (up from 45% in September 2015)

Sunday Trading: potential changes

Councils are to gain powers to create zones with extended opening hours on Sundays.

The devolvement of Sunday trading rules, to be included in the next stage of the Enterprise Bill, is expected to give a boost to local high-street traders competing with online retailers.

Staff in larger stores will have the right to opt out of working on Sundays on religious grounds or for family reasons. The notice period they are required to give to their employers will be reduced from three months to one month and shop owners will have a duty to inform their workers of these rights.

Read more on the government website here.

 

Leeds Executive Lunch: Data City PPT

On 12 February, Bloom’s Alex Craven gave a presentation to the Leeds Chamber Executive Lunch on ‘Data City’ – the use of technology, the diversity of the digital sector, and the challenges and opportunities of identifying and incorporating this ever-advancing sector in the wider economy.

This enlightening talk was accompanied by a PowerPoint featuring statistics (or should that be data?!) and ideas on how the sector can drive the economy forward.

You can now download that presentation here.