Featherstone exhibition firm stays centre stage

Exhibition stand design business Alfa has been saved from having to move out of its Featherstone offices thanks to the Superfast West Yorkshire and York project.

The company said existing broadband speeds at its base on the Green Lane Industrial Estate – where it’s been based for the last ten years – were so low it was struggling to function efficiently and needed to move to a location with better connectivity.

But the arrival of high-speed fibre broadband on the estate has allowed the firm to stay put and transform its operation.

The business, which designs and builds exhibition stands, is heavily reliant on online connectivity, especially for communicating between the Featherstone design team and a production team based at Alfa’s head office in Hampshire.

Jane Frost, sales director, said: “We were struggling with speeds of less than one megabit and seriously contemplating moving away from the estate because it got to the point where we just couldn’t cope anymore.

“We have a production and installation team based in our Hampshire office and we all work on a main server – so they design something then drop it on the server and we should be able to retrieve it instantly from there. The business is quite graphic intensive so there are a lot of files going to and fro between the two offices with various design ideas and proofs for the exhibition stands, such as 3D models of the stands we’re planning to build for clients.

“Before fibre, we spent our whole time watching egg timers. If one person was trying to upload or download a particularly large file it was game over for the rest of us.”

Jane added that staff were sometimes forced to work from home where they could get a better broadband connection and even resorted to using a mobile phone connection to send important files.

“Our client base is international so being able to have video conference calls with them is really important. I would do it from home because the office broadband was just so bad, it just wouldn’t connect a lot of the time – which doesn’t look very professional in front of customers, especially when you’re a design company. It is all about technology and there is an expectation that things will work seamlessly and instantly.  We were having to work from home to cover up for the fact that we couldn’t do things from the office,” Jane said.

Supported by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Superfast West Yorkshire and York’s aim is to ensure that more businesses and residents across West Yorkshire and York have access to fibre broadband superfast speeds.

Alfa, which has seen more than a thirty fold increase in broadband speed, is now able to work much more efficiently – saving thousands of man-hours previously lost waiting for work to download.

Jane said: “I probably spent at least an hour everyday just waiting for things to download. Now everything is instant so we can be much more reactive to customer needs.

“I can now skype customers any time of day from the office without worrying about losing the connection. A lot of our clients are international so video conferencing plays a crucial role in maintaining those relationships. They have an expectation that things will work seamlessly and instantly.

“We’ve also got a big screen in the office which we use to stream videos of work we’ve done for potential clients – which we can now do without it constantly buffering and freezing.”

The business has also been able to take over the management of its website, which it previously outsourced to an agency. “Before, we just didn’t have the bandwidth to do anything with the website ourselves – even though we have our own team of designers. Now we can instantly update it with new photography and graphics without going through a third party – saving on time and money.”

Cllr Denise Jeffery, Wakefield Council’s cabinet member for economic growth and Skills, said: “It’s good news that businesses across our district are benefitting from improved internet connections. This helps businesses to do things faster and more efficiently, boosting jobs and growth, and the local economy.”

Tom Keeney, BT’s regional director for Yorkshire and the Humber, added: “Having fibre meant Alfa could maintain its operational base in Featherstone and continue to contribute to the local economy, helping to keep jobs in the local area and attract inward investment.

“Fibre has also provided them with the necessary tools to work and compete more efficiently in the digital world we now live in.”

The second phase of the Superfast West Yorkshire and York roll-out will extend fibre coverage to 98 per cent of the programme area. This additional £19.5 million investment will bring fibre broadband speeds within reach of 33,413 homes and businesses across West Yorkshire and York by the end of 2018.

Around 850,000 households and businesses in West Yorkshire now have access to high-speed fibre broadband as a result of Superfast West Yorkshire and York and BT’s own commercial fibre broadband programme. It’s an ‘opt in’ service, but because the Openreach network is ‘open’, residents and businesses wanting to upgrade have a choice of fibre broadband providers.

Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield and York Councils are working with BT to extend high-speed fibre broadband to 98 per cent of households and businesses across the majority of West Yorkshire and York by the end of 2018.

In total, £41.4 million has been invested in the two phases of the Superfast West Yorkshire and York programme. The programme is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020 (ERDF) programme and has also received Government funding from Broadband Delivery UK, BT, WYCA,  the five West Yorkshire local authorities and City of York Council.

For more information about the project or to find out when superfast broadband will be delivered in your area visit www.superfastwestyorkshire.co.uk

Chamber wins national lobbying award

West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce is celebrating after winning the Most Effective Campaigning award, sponsored by BT, at the British Chambers of Commerce’s annual Chamber Business Awards 2016. The Chamber Business Awards, now in its 13th year, is one of the showpiece events in the business calendar, highlighting the role of business in delivering growth and prosperity for the UK and local communities.

The Chamber was praised by the judging panel for its campaign to lobby HS2 to create a single station in Leeds to maximise the economic benefit to the region. The Chamber assembled a panel of members from across the region, launched a report calling for the existing station and HS2 services to share a common concourse, and for the new station to be part of a fully integrated transport hub, and having the capacity to meet future rail growth.

Following the campaign, HS2 recommended the creation of a single station bringing high speed and classic rail services together with a shared concourse in Leeds.

Francis Martin, President of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said:

“West and North Yorkshire Chamber have delivered a fantastic campaign to ensure that plans for HS2 are best placed to provide the maximum economic benefit for the region. This member-led campaign has successfully argued for sensible and functional infrastructure planning which will be able to meet future rail demand. The Chamber is a well-deserved recipient of this award.”

Mark Goldstone, Head of Business Representation & Policy for the West & North Yorkshire Chamber said:

“This award is testament to the commitment of those businesses across our region who gave their time freely without seeking reward in order to improve the economy for all. I am delighted that the British Chambers of Commerce have recognised this effort and I am thrilled to accept this award on their behalf.”

Property Tax Breakfast Seminar

Michael Lewin Solicitors are delighted to invite you to a special breakfast seminar in conjunction with our friends at PD Tax Consultants.

With interest rates at record lows and limited returns from other investment options, property is increasingly attractive for investors, landlords, and first time buyers alike.

Recent Government decisions have impacted the housing market and our guest speakers will discuss the latest property announcements from the Autumn Statement.

This seminar offers a unique opportunity to hear from both legal and tax experts about the consequences of buying, selling, and developing property in UK.

The seminar will be interactive with opportunities for discussion and questions with our experts.

Breakfast and refreshments will be provided on arrival, with the presentation starting at 8.30am and lasting one and a half hours.

Spaces are limited so please click here to book.

Export masterclass to focus on China

A special masterclass to teach businesses how to use the Internet to export goods to China is being held in West Yorkshire next month (December).

The two-hour morning event, being held by overseas trade specialist, Chamber International, at Deloitte LLP, Leeds, on December 8, will provide insights on key opportunities for Yorkshire businesses to use e-commerce to sell into the world’s second biggest economy.

Insights on how China’s consumers use e-commerce, the differences between key platforms and a step-by-step guide to the logistics of online exporting, will be provided by Chamber International’s China affairs associate, Matthew Grandage, and Scott Muir, founder of London-based digital marketing company, Regroup Media, which specialises in online selling to China.

The Chinese already do more than 13% of their retail shopping online, higher than the EU average of below 10%.  Chinese internet giant Alibaba recorded $17.8bn in sales in 24 hours on this year’s “Singles’ Day” shopping festival (November 11th), a 32% increase on 2015.

Matthew Grandage says: “Chinese consumers love to buy fashion, accessories, cosmetics, baby care and healthcare products online but there are also rapidly growing online markets for food, beverages, pet products, toys and much more.

“The Chinese also love UK quality and design. Even companies in industrial and service sectors will benefit greatly if they can understand and engage with China’s Internet culture.  Some UK companies now do most of their business with China online because they made the smart move to get in early, and did it well.

“The Singles’ Day phenomenon illustrates the scale of the opportunity and the cultural differences between online shopping in China and the West.

“China is a huge and growing market, but some British SMEs have felt that it is too expensive or difficult to address, even though they have the right product.  E-commerce and digital marketing are bringing these barriers down, and opening up new markets in China for businesses like these and our masterclass will show them how to do it.”

Chamber International, which also supports Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership’s We are International campaign, helps hundreds of new and experienced exporters with a wide range of specialist services to make exporting easier and more cost effective each year and is exclusively partnered with London headquartered global testing organisation, Intertek, to assist with a wide range of issues including product conformity.

FAST LANE TO EXPORTS:  A Chinese commuter rides past one of JD.com’s Singles’ Day posters.

Autumn Statement: Chamber Reaction

Autumn Statement – 23 Nov 2016

Reaction of West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce

Stephen Wright, Chairman, said:

“There are some very welcome measures announced in today’s Autumn Statement.  Given the current backdrop of uncertainty and change underway in the world, the package announced by Philip Hammond should offer some reassurance.

“The measures on transport and infrastructure, and for local regions, are welcomed.  A commitment to continue with the Northern Powerhouse agenda is also applauded.  It’s good news that a series of measures have now been drawn together in the publication of a Northern Powerhouse strategy alongside today’s Statement.  We look forward to working with other stakeholders on delivering on the strategy.

“Investment in the digital infrastructure and support for our rural communities also ensures that new and historical areas of our economy are being backed for future growth and prosperity.   Business confidence is crucial right now – we may be facing unchartered territory and so reassurance and certainty is important for business right now.  However, our members are determined, positive and confident in their abilities to deliver quality goods and services, and therefore contribute to future economic growth and development, despite what may happen elsewhere.

A steady hand is needed in the Treasury and the rest of government just now and so increased resources for transport, housing, broadband and innovation will help business and markets.”

British Chambers of Commerce Director General Adam Marshall added:

“While business communities would have liked Philip Hammond to go even further to support growth, they will recognise that his hands are somewhat tied by lower tax receipts and sharply higher borrowing forecasts. The fact that he chose to commit significant new resources to support growth and productivity demonstrates welcome flexibility during a period of uncertainty and change.

“There was very little support in our business communities for further cuts to Corporation Tax, so Philip Hammond was right to stick with existing plans. However, we would have liked to see more action on the high up-front taxes and costs of doing business in the UK, particularly business rates.”

Full British Chambers of Commerce reaction here

A summary of what the Autumn Statement means for your business can be found here.


LAKE announced as Proactis EMEA Partner of the Year

LAKE has again been named Proactis Partner of the year. This award recognises excellence in customer support and leading financial performance for the year to 31st July 2016.

Adrian Howard, General Manager at LAKE, comments:

“Proactis is a leading purchase-to-pay and procurement solution for Infor SunSystems customers and LAKE are specialists in both of these systems. We have been a Proactis Channel Partner for over 13 years and SunSystems channel partner for 25 years. This award is testament to our ongoing investment in service delivery and market-leading integration and reporting solutions.”

Rod Jones, CEO at PROACTIS added,

“We know that many organisations want tailored solutions that support their specific needs, which is why channel partners such as LAKE deliver exceptional added value and customer service. They are a crucial part of our business.” 

Government spending with SMEs to get a boost

A panel of business experts from across the UK have met for the first time under plans to boost government spending with small and medium-sized enterprises.

The 24-strong advisory panel had its first meeting on 15 November. It will work with government to ensure that, by 2020, £1 of every £3 invested by Whitehall in goods and services goes to SMEs. If met, the target would mean almost £3 billion of new business up for grabs each year, either directly or through the supply chain.

The Cabinet Office has estimated that 27% of government procurement spending (or £12.1 billion) reached SMEs in 2014-15, surpassing its target of 25%.  An advisory panel supported this work and a number of its members are continuing to help government work towards its aim of increasing spending with SMEs to 33% by 2020.

For further information visit http://bit.ly/2fSAZDc. Businesses can register on Contracts Finder to search for government contracts over £10,000.


Reaction to HS2 route announcement

Leeds Chamber of Commerce has welcomed today’s announcement of the route for the HS2 high-speed rail link. The announcement sets out the route for phase 2b from Crewe and Birmingham onwards to Leeds and Manchester.

Gerald Jennings, President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, said:

“HS2 will be the biggest single investment in the North of England in a generation and will transform rail journeys between some of the UK’s largest cities. Today’s announcement brings a degree of certainty which in turn will encourage further business investment in the region. HS2 will improve connectivity and create greater capacity for increased rail patronage something we know influences where businesses locate. A track is yet to be laid and already we have seen positive moves from developers who see Leeds and the wider city region as a place to invest.  We are also pleased to see reference to Northern Powerhouse Rail, ensuring that HS2 is not built in isolation but that thought is given to future East-West connectivity and the creation of a high speed network across the north of England.”

Jeff Pearey, JLL’s Lead Director for Yorkshire and North East and recently appointed chair of Leeds Chamber Property Forum, added:

“This announcement is welcome news and while the arrival of the first trains is still a number of years away, as a city we must ensure we are HS2 ready. The Council is already consulting on plans for South Bank Leeds which will effectively double the size of the city centre, and the recent appointment of the consortium to develop the new enhanced station, known as the Yorkshire Hub, is also very exciting. I believe this is a once in a generation opportunity to enhance and contribute to regional and national prosperity and we must ensure that we have the skills base to maximise the economic benefits.”

HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will provide high speed links east-west and north-south into Leeds City Centre, providing improved capacity and connectivity across the North of England and onwards to the Midlands and London.

Further information on the announcement is available here.


Business awards scheme gives credit for community activities

Businesses have won plaudits for the work they do in the community at an awards celebration in Leeds (Thursday 10 November).

The ‘Raising the Bar’ awards, which highlight companies doing good deeds in schools, the community and with charities, featured firms from Bradford, Leeds and York at the Met Hotel in Leeds. The event, run by West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, was sold out weeks in advance and the number of entries received this year was the highest ever recorded.

Four organisations were praised for work in different categories, with an overall winner chosen from that group.  The categories of community, economy, education and environment were recognised.

The overall winner, Ucan Recycling, was classed by judges to be the stand-out entry across all four categories.  The individual category winners were: Naylor Wintersgill (community), Hungate York Regeneration (education), Christeyns (environment) and See Green Media (economy).

Rob Seal, Managing Director of Ucan, said after receiving his award:

“We’re delighted to be the winner of the overall award; it’s a great achievement for a small company like us.  The awards and this event are a great showcase for all the hard work the Ucan team does, plus all the other winners.  The awards help with our profile, boost staff morale and ultimately help the business grow.”

Ucan is a Wyke-based social enterprise specialising in the recycling and re-use of IT materials. The not-for-profit organisation started in 2010 to create jobs for the long-term unemployed. It offers a free collection service to businesses, schools, universities and councils, to clear out redundant IT materials and keep it out of landfill. Ucan now boasts a £1.2 million turnover.

Managing Partner, Victoria Wainwright of Naylor Wintersgill said:  “Naylor Wintersgill is delighted to have won the Raising the Bar Community award.  We’re proud to continually support and pro-actively contribute to the local community; the award is well-deserved recognition for the efforts of our fantastic team. We’ve been part of Bradford’s business community for almost 100 years now – 2017 will see us celebrate our centenary. With this, we are looking forward to plenty more fundraising opportunities and activities for the year ahead!”

Steven Graham of Hungate York Regeneration added:  “It’s fantastic to be part of these awards and to be recognised for all the work done.  The event was great and we would encourage all businesses to take part if they can.”

Jayne Talbot of Christeyns added:  “This is the third year that we have won this award; each year the competition gets tougher and it’s harder to find new ways to make improvements to constantly raise the bar.  The awards themselves are inspirational, it’s great to see the work that others do, and a chance to share ideas.  For others considering introducing Raising the Bar, we’ve found that it allows us to focus on our CSR activities while engaging staff, measure what we’re currently doing, and gives recognition for the work we’ve done.” 

Evie Lees of See Green Media said: “We’re so happy to have won an award for something which means so much to us on a day-to-day basis!”

The event was compered by BBC Look North’s Danni Hewson, and organised by West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.  Stephen Wright, Chairman of West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, added:  “Many companies undertake additional activities outside their core work and services, so it’s right that they are recognised through the Raising the Bar awards.  It showcases the good work that business does that, quite often, would otherwise go un-noticed.”

Short-listed for the awards in the respective categories were:

  • Community: Acorn Stairlifts and Garbutt &Elliott
  • Economy: Roche and Hangfast
  • Education: Rotherwood Recruitment and Ucan
  • Environment: See Green and Ucan
  • Acorn and Christeyns were also highly recommended in the overall winners category.

Picture shows: L-R: Rob Lawson, Provident Financial; Nicky Seal & Rob Seal, both Ucan Recycling