Government Minister at Leeds Dinner

Chris Grayling MP

Transport and devolution were two key talking points for the speakers at last night’s Leeds Chamber annual dinner.

Leeds Dinner January 2017
Leeds Dinner January 2017

Transport Secretary and leading Leave campaigner last summer, Chris Grayling, pledged to deliver on the government’s schemes that will support Northern devolution and, therefore, independence from the capital.  He also acknowledged the lobbying work underway to secure Bradford a place on the trans-Pennine high-speed rail line proposal.

President Gerald Jennings promised to hold the minister and Theresa May’s government to account, saying that businesses are now increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress on devolution.  Skills shortages and, inevitably, Brexit, were also covered in the President’s speech.  Gerald thanked members for their support during the campaign to align the proposed HS2 station with the existing one, leading to a national award.

Highlight’s of Gerald’s speech are below.

Brexit

Certainly no one can say 2016 lacked political drama, Shakespeare could not have written a more riveting plot. Although like many in the room I would have preferred the year to be a little more boring. I can’t talk about 2016 without mentioning Brexit. Whilst the Chamber remained impartial both during and after the EU referendum, I think the result took almost everyone by surprise, especially those campaigning to leave. However people voted I strongly believe we must all now come together and ensure Brexit is a success.  Working with members the Chamber’s newly formed Brexit Advisory Group will ensure any business concerns about the future economy are fed in to Government departments.

Devolution

Parochialism and party politics must be set aside for the greater good. In thinking about devolution we should ask why we want it. Devolution has to deliver the tools to enable you as businesses to succeed. It is not about political self-interest, what colour shirt a mayor is likely to wear or what artificial structures need to be put in place to ensure power is not lost by those who currently have it.

Northern Powerhouse

Clearly as a brand it has been a success and something, post-Brexit we should all get behind and use to further develop international trade relations. The recently launched Industrial Strategy gives us further possibilities although it does read a little bit like motherhood and apple pie and clearly there’s not yet enough money behind it.

Skills

A consistent message we receive from business is that we need more and better skills. However in doing this we need to inspire the next generation and show them all the different routes they have to a successful future. Further work should be done to demonstrate young people can have that future in this city and this region.

Transport

We hear regularly from members about their need to draw in talent from as wide a catchment area as possible, or move their goods and services to markets conveniently which is why transport remains a key priority for our lobbying activities. Access to talent and to markets is key to our future success.

First West Yorkshire trials new mobile tickets for children

  • From 23rd January parents across the region can purchase mobile tickets and transfer these onto their child’s phone, for use on First West Yorkshire services
  • The new option on the mTickets app will remove the need for anyone under the age of 18 to hold an adult’s credit card details on their phone in order to purchase mobile bus tickets

Local bus operator First West Yorkshire is trialling a new initiative across the region by offering parents the opportunity to purchase mobile bus tickets for their children, and then allowing these tickets to be transferred directly on their child’s phone, thus removing the need to store credit or debit card details on a young person’s phone.

The First Bus mTickets app allows customers to buy and load bus tickets onto their phone, but until recently, young people without a credit or debit card, have only been able to purchase mobile tickets by using an adult’s card. What’s more, according to research* by Newsround, some 90 per cent of 11-16 year olds have a mobile phone, and First West Yorkshire has therefore adapted its mTickets app so that it is now more broadly accessible to young people.

The new option on the mTickets app can also help to put parents’ minds at ease, as it will mean that children will not need to keep hold of bus money throughout the day, but instead will have their bus ticket paid for, and stored on their mobile phone.

Speaking about the new initiative, Paul Matthews, Managing Director at First West Yorkshire, said: “Our aim with this change is to ensure that all customers have access to the benefits of using our mTickets app, as well as helping to put parents’ minds at ease. The update to the mTickets app means that once a parent or guardian has purchased a child bus ticket (i.e. day, weekly, monthly or annual) through the mTickets app, then they will then have the ability to transfer that ticket to their child. This means that children will not need to carry cash with them throughout the day in order to purchase a bus ticket – so there’ll be no excuses for children claiming to have lost their bus money!

“We will be trialling this new initiative in West Yorkshire over the next month in order to gauge the popularity of this introduction, and we’d like to encourage as many parents to get involved as possible.”

The news also follows recent research** from First Bus, which found that if enough passengers make the switch from cash to mTickets, boarding times would become so much quicker that average journey times would reduce, despite the ever increasing congestion on the roads.

The mTickets app is easy to use and is available for free via the App Store and Google Play. Customers simply download the app, register, select from a variety of tickets, and navigate the secure payment system. Once the payment section is complete, bus tickets live in a virtual wallet ready for the customer to show the driver.

To find out more about the First Bus mTickets app, visit https://www.firstgroup.com/buy-ticket/mtickets-faqs.

BCC comments on Supreme Court judgement

 Commenting on the judgment of the Supreme Court on the triggering of Article 50, Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

 “The practical impact of this ruling, not the political intricacies, is what interests business communities across the UK. What businesses will want to know is whether this ruling will affect either the terms of the government’s approach, or the timeline that firms across the UK have been told to expect.

“Businesses will also want to see action to ensure that this further political wrinkle does not add further to the volatility of exchange rates.”

Leeds manufacturers to fly the flag for UK business overseas

Three Leeds manufacturing firms – Hopkins Catering Equipment, Brandon Medical and Rakusens – have been selected export champions to fly the flag for UK business in overseas markets as part the Commonwealth First initiative which aims to highlight the depth of innovation and quality that the UK’s SMEs have to offer.

Launched by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, the export champions programme will provide access to high level networking opportunities and trade missions across the 53 Commonwealth nations.

Leeds is a major centre for manufacturing and home to extremely innovative businesses in the advanced medical technologies, food and drink, specialist equipment manufacture and engineering, manufacturing sectors.

Sandy Needham, chief executive of West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce said: “The continued success of Leeds manufacturing companies in highly competitive international markets has set a great example and will be even more important as the UK seeks to develop new trading relationships post-Brexit.”

Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council said: “It’s fantastic news that Hopkins Catering, Brandon Medical and Rakusens have been selected to take part in the export champions programme. We need to encourage more firms to export in order to grow the regional economy and these are three very successful Leeds firms with strong track records in trading with Commonwealth and other countries around the world. They will make tremendous ambassadors for the city and the wider region in overseas markets.”

  • Brandon Medical is a £6 million turnover business, which manufactures operating theatre lighting, AV systems, control systems and equipment. Growth in exports – which account for nearly half of total sales – has been driven by the appointment of a network of a new distributors covering the major Asia Pacific countries including Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia. The company has also added to its product range to meet the requirements of its international customers with the new Anteris operating table which was exhibited at the Arab Health trade show in Dubai.
  • Hopkins Catering Equipment specialises in the design, manufacture and installation of bespoke frying ranges for the chip shop and restaurant trade in the UK and abroad. The £5 million turnover business, based in Pudsey, is run by managing director Victoria Hopkins and currently exports to Australia, the Middle East and the United States. In 2015 the company launched a new product range aimed specifically at US market at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Export currently accounts for 11% of turnover but, with online sales, is a growing area of the business.
  • Rakusens is a manufacturer of crackers and biscuits, originally established in 1900 to provide kosher foods aimed at the Jewish community. Kosher products remain at the core of the business but recent years have seen new markets opened up for the company’s range of flame baked products, which are extremely low in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. Business owner Andrew Simpson is aiming to build Rakusen’s into a £6 million business, with overseas sales the key driver for future growth.

The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council facilitates trade and investment throughout the 53 states of the Commonwealth and supports private sector companies and governments to promote economic activity. It works with member companies to expand their businesses and to help with new investments in any Commonwealth country.

The three year CommonwealthFirst programme was announced at the Commonwealth Business Forum, Malta 2015 and will see a group of 100 outstanding UK SMEs selected to represent the UK as Commonwealth export champions.

Lord Marland, Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, said: ‘This programme is a wonderful way of demonstrating both the ingenuity of British businesses and the huge opportunities in Commonwealth markets. We hope these companies will serve as ambassadors for other UK businesses looking to trade internationally.”

Poll asks about planned pay settlements

Bank of England

Businesses are asked to take part in a short poll about planned pay awards for this year.

The work is part of the Chamber’s regular dialogue with the Bank of England, while also assisting the tracking of the economy that supports our lobbying activities.

The poll is open until 7 February, and contains just five questions, including what pay settlement businesses expect to award their staff this year, and how it will affect their overall costs.

Please take a few minutes to complete the poll by clicking here.

The poll is, of course, confidential, and no company information is shared.

PM’s Brexit Plan: Chamber Reaction

West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce has reacted to the Prime Minister’s Brexit Plan speech, made on Tuesday 17 Jan 2017.

Andrew Latchmore, Chair of the Brexit Advisory Group of West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said:

“The Prime Minister and her Brexit team have a difficult path to walk: they are criticised for being vague and without a plan, and yet revealing one’s red lines prior to triggering Article 50 would be ruinous.  Theresa May gave a confident and reassuring message to businesses today, telling them that global trade allied with a working partnership with the EU is both do-able and beneficial to both sides of the Brexit negotiations.  This was clearly not simply a box-ticking process for the PM, yet it was good to hear phrases such as ‘open-ness to international talent’, ‘build a truly global Britain’ and to emphasise the importance of research in science and technology in the speech.

“Businesses will continue to operate to the best of their ability and do not want Brexit to become all-consuming to the point of increasing instability and nervousness; but at the same time, the negotiations, once Article 50 is triggered, cannot be ignored and may have some influence on future confidence.  The Chamber will continue to monitor developments via our Brexit Advisory Group and keep up pressure on the Government to deliver what is best for our businesses.  Members should make their views known to us and we will keep them informed of our lobbying work through the usual channels.”

Key points of the speech itself included the following

– The UK “cannot possibly” remain within the European single market, as staying in it would mean “not leaving the EU at all”

– The UK will push for the “freest possible trade” with European countries and to sign new deals with others around the world.

– Parliament would vote on the final deal agreed between the UK and the EU.

– UK priorities include:

  • Maintaining the common travel area between the UK and Irish Republic
  • Tariff-free trade with the EU
  • A customs agreement with the EU
  • New trade agreements with countries outside the EU
  • Continued “practical” sharing of intelligence and policing information
  • “Control” of immigration rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU
  • A “phased approach”

Mrs May said that it was not her intention to undermine the EU but warned against a “punitive” reaction to Brexit, as it would bring “calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe and it would not be the act of a friend”.

WorkFit Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Conference

The conference will illustrate how WorkFit supports adults with Down’s syndrome into the world of work and is a chance to meet various stakeholders from the world of supported employment. Workfit will hear from successful employees and their employers, get an update from DWP and enjoy some inspiring success stories.  It promises to be an inspiring and rewarding event where we can share our successes and meet others who share our goals. Everyone is welcome.

More info…

Focus on technology to boost your business in 2017

Anyone willing to stake their reputation on predicting what might happen during 2017 should remember this: a £10 bet on Donald Trump, Brexit and Leicester City winning the Premier League would have returned around £30 million.

But I’ve never been one to err on the side of caution. So I’m happy to share some thoughts about where I think business owners across Yorkshire and the Humber should focus during 2017.

With the amount of technology and innovation at our fingertips, small businesses are now able to punch above their weight, particularly online, like never before.

At the forefront of this digital revolution is BT’s huge investment in fibre broadband. It’s now reached nearly two million of homes and businesses across Yorkshire and the Humber, thanks to BT’s commercial rollout and fibre broadband partnerships the length and breadth of the region.

And as we head into 2017, there’s no better time to share my top tips that will hopefully make the year ahead a successful one for you and your business.

Making it EASY is now the most important thing

BT research shows 62 per cent of people find customer service from all types of businesses exhausting[1].

Nowadays, people want things to be simple. There is less brand loyalty, and convenience is often more important than price. But all our research shows that if you make it easy for customers, they’ll keep coming back to you.

But how do you do that? Put simply, make it easy for customers to buy from you, make reporting a problem or asking a question a painless process, and make sure your social media channels are up to the task.

Did you know more than 70 per cent of people expect a response from businesses on social media within just 15 minutes? Or that one in three people think Twitter or Facebook are the best ways of interacting when things are urgent?

So perhaps 2017 should be the year you review your social media channels and make sure they’re effective and meeting the expectations of your customers. If not, then all that effort you put in to being online could actually be doing more harm than good.

Look after your employees and they’ll look after you

Nearly two-thirds of office workers now say that being able to work flexibly, such as working from home, is more important than having a company car.

More than half of us now work in this way, and with such an importance being attached to being able to work on the go, business leaders need to explore if they’re doing enough.

Technology is key. Two in three say better communication would really help their organisation succeed. They want to use technology to improve the way they work and BT’s work with fibre broadband helps make that happen.

Our research shows the smartphone is key. Sixty nine per cent want screen sharing on their handset, 62 per cent want instant messaging when out and about, and nearly half want to be able to use video chat when away from the office.

It’s an interesting concept and one that is constantly developing. But the message is simple. Make sure your workforce has appropriate access to technology and tools required to do their job and they’ll embrace flexible-working.

Video killed the radio star

So crooned the Buggles back in the late 70’s. And it’s fair to say that video has been the ‘next big thing’ for many a year since.

As customers, many of the ways we interact with businesses are becoming more automated and remote. So video is seen by many as a way of offering a more personalised experience.

It’s more accessible than ever with a combination of smartphones, tablets and PCs with cameras, plus better/faster/cheaper connectivity means that video services like Skype, Facetime and YouTube have become part of our everyday lives.

But chatting to our friends and family is one thing. Would you want to use video talk to speak to a business? Some of our research suggests the answer to this question could well be yes. More than half of people now have the appetite to use video chat when speaking to a business.

Of course it’s not perfect in every scenario but the one thing it’s proven to do is build trust. It could well be worth exploring further during 2017 as a way of improving service and developing your relationship with customers.

[1] BT Autonomous Customer research – www.globalservices.bt.com/uk/en/point-of-view/autonomous-customer-2015

Le Tour business roadshows

Businesses across Yorkshire are being invited to a series of Tour de Yorkshire roadshows as the county gears up to host the major international cycle race. This is a great opportunity to come along and find out more about what is happening in your local area and across the region during the Tour.

Various dates and locations have been listed on the Tour de Yorkshire website, including the following.

Scarborough – 17 Jan

Harrogate – 19 Jan

Tadcaster – 26 Jan

Bradford – 2 Feb (the city hosts the start of the third and final stage on 30 April)

Pocklington – 22 Feb

Saltaire – 1 March

If you would like a roadshow to be held in your area please contact Philippa Kelly-Bull pkelly@yorkshire.com

Le Tour takes place 28-30 April.

Survey shows confidence maintained

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) today (Thursday) publishes its Quarterly Economic Survey – the UK’s largest and most authoritative private sector business survey. Based on 7,250 responses from companies in Q4 2016, the results show the uptick in Q3 in the manufacturing sector has been sustained in the final quarter, and more service sector firms were expecting growth than they were just after the EU referendum.

The survey shows that having slowed in Q3 2016, growth in domestic sales and orders in the services sector rebounded slightly in Q4, although they have not yet returned to historic levels. The fall in Sterling may be benefiting some manufacturers, with export sales and orders remaining at the increased levels seen in Q3.

QES At a Glance - part 1
QES At a Glance – part 1

The survey also indicates that, having fallen in Q3, confidence in future turnover, hiring expectations and investment in plant and machinery have improved for both manufacturing and services firms in Q4.

However, the survey found that firms in both sectors, particularly in manufacturing, are facing pressure to raise prices, principally as a result of the cost of raw materials and other overheads.

The results support BCC’s forecast for continuing growth, but at a slower pace, an expectation which is backed up by the fact that many survey balances remain well off historic levels.

Key findings in the Q4 2016 survey:

  • Overall, the figures for both sectors indicate continued expansion, but at a lower level for the services sector than before the EU referendum
  • There was a considerable rise in the balance of firms in both sectors expecting the prices of their goods and services to increase over the next three months, with the balance for manufacturers rising from +31% to +52% and service firms from +20% to +30%. This is the highest on record in the manufacturing sector, and the highest since Q1 2011 for service firms. This pressure is predominately as a result of an increase in raw material prices following the post-referendum devaluation of Sterling
  • In the manufacturing sector, the balance of firms reporting improved export sales remained broadly steady, slightly decreasing from +17% in Q3 2016, to +16. The balance for export orders is +13%, similar to +12% in the previous quarter. Both balances are up from +1% in the same quarter last year.
  • Domestically, the balance of manufacturers reporting increased sales rose to +15% from +13%, and those reporting increased advance orders remained level at +7%. The balance for services firms rebounded slightly, after falling considerably in the last quarter. Domestic sales were up from +9% to +15% and orders rose from +8% to +13%. In Q2 2016, to compare, they had been +24% and +20% respectively
  • The percentage of manufacturing firms reporting recruitment difficulties increased considerably from 64% to 76%
  • In the last three months, the balance of manufacturers hiring more staff rose from +15% to +23%, and services rose from +14% to +16%
  • Having dipped in the last quarter, both sectors are reporting higher balances of firms investing in plant and machinery, with the balance of manufacturing firms increasing the balance of firms from +8% to +19%
  • More firms in both sectors are reporting confidence that their turnover will increase. The balance of manufacturers rose from +36% to +43%, while services increased from +28% to +35%. While confidence in profitability remained static at +22% among manufacturers since last quarter, it rose from +15% to +21% in the services sector. However, both profit and turnover confidence are still relatively low compared to results from the past three years.
QES At a Glance - part 2
QES At a Glance – part 2

 Commenting on the results, Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

 “As we start 2017, businesses are continuing to trade through the uncertainty, and are looking to seize opportunities as they arise. Our findings suggest that business communities across the UK remain resilient, and many firms are expecting continued growth in the months ahead.

“Inflation has emerged in our survey as a rising concern for many businesses. Both manufacturing and services firms say they are under pressure, particularly from the rising cost of inputs, which is squeezing margins and may weaken future investment.

“Overall, our findings suggest growth will continue in 2017, albeit at a more modest pace. The government must act strongly this year to support investment and improve the business environment – both of which are crucial to boosting business confidence, and therefore further growth.”

Suren Thiru, Head of Economics at the BCC, said:

“Having slowed significantly in the previous quarter, the services sector has rebounded, although it’s not yet back to levels seen at the start of the year. Nonetheless, the service sector is likely to have been the key driver of growth in the quarter.

“Manufacturers, particularly those that export, continue to report positive indicators. However, while some firms will be benefitting from the depreciation in the value of the pound, there is currently little evidence that it is providing a material boost to overall export growth. The UK’s manufacturing base continues to struggle with long-term structural issues, with businesses continuing to report considerable recruitment difficulties. The government must work to address the skills gap, while also ensuring that businesses have access to the workers they need from overseas.

“There is further evidence that rising prices will be a key challenge to the outlook for the UK economy over the next year, with the significant rise in the cost of raw materials increasing the pressure on firms to raise prices in the coming months. While growth is likely to have remained on trend in the quarter, the UK’s growth prospects in the near-term are expected to be more subdued, weighed down by rising inflation and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.”