Leeds-London rail service goes half-hourly

Virgin Trains will create a half hourly service between Leeds and London six days per week when its new timetable is introduced in May.

An additional 15 services will be scheduled on Saturdays between Leeds and the capital, resulting in a new half hourly service from Monday to Saturday inclusive.

When combined with a further seven services which were introduced in December 2016, a total of 600,000 more seats will have been added to the Leeds-London route when the new timetable is launched on 21 May.

The move follows the opening of a new Virgin Trains ticket area in Leeds station, where staff now meet and greet customers on the concourse and help them to buy tickets or with journey enquiries, and the launch, from next week, of a 50% promotion with fares as low as £7.60 from Leeds or Wakefield to London King’s Cross.

From Monday (27th March) up to 100,000 single tickets between Leeds, Wakefield and London King’s Cross will be sold for just £7.60 in Standard Class and £21.30 in First as Virgin Trains encourages people to leave the cars at home and take a train to the capital instead. The promotion will run from Monday to 12 April, with travel from 18 April to 30 June 2017*

Natasha Wilding, General Manager for Virgin Trains on its east coast route, said: “We’re bringing in more services at weekends so that, for the first time, we’ll have a train every half an hour from Leeds and Wakefield to London six days a week.

“And through our ‘congestion relief’ promotion they could pay as little as £7.60 each way to travel between West Yorkshire and London. This is a great offer for those looking to leave their car at home and take the train to London. Rather than sit in traffic, customers can enjoy a more relaxing and faster journey to the capital with Virgin Trains.”

Eight new services will operate northbound to Wakefield and Leeds from London King’s Cross on Saturdays from 21 May. Seven new southbound services will be introduced from Leeds and Wakefield, while a further southbound service will depart Leeds on Sunday mornings, calling at Wakefield en route to London.  Return journey times are expected to be around six minutes quicker.

Gerald Jennings, President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, said: “The extra rail services between the capital and Leeds will be welcomed by both those who regularly and occasionally use the East Coast Main Line, and are in response to a continual increase in current and forecast demand.

“The additional services will increase choice for the customer and also underline the importance of the Leeds City Region to Virgin Trains.”

AD:VENTURE gives growth boost for new and young firms

Businesses across the Leeds City Region can now access an exciting new business support programme aimed at helping new and young businesses to grow at a faster and stronger rate.

AD:VENTURE offers innovative, collaborative regional business support for ambitious, high growth businesses under 3 years old. 12 advisors will act as a dedicated resource for young and growing businesses, with additional support available offering professional workshops, finance brokerage, incubator office space, new start and growth grants, entrepreneur knowledge exchange programmes and specialist sector advice.

For people planning to start a business within the Leeds City Region and existing businesses in their first 3 years of trading, AD:VENTURE will enable SME businesses to grow in capability, credibility, confidence and competence. The programme aims to support business with high growth ambitions to increase their rate of growth, leading to increased turnover and new job creation.

Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said: “I am pleased to see this programme launch in the City Region, filling a key gap in the region’s business support market by providing support to improve the sustainability and growth potential of new and young businesses. AD:VENTURE is a welcome addition to the extensive support available for businesses in Leeds City Region and will ultimately boost the local economy, helping to enhance our region’s profile as the best place in the North to do business.”

Combining the significant forces of Leeds CC, Business Enterprise Fund, Calderdale MBC, City of Bradford MDC, Craven DC, Harrogate BC, Kirklees Council, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Trinity University, Make it York & York Council, Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Prince’s Trust, Selby DC, Wakefield MDC, West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, West Yorkshire Combined Authority (on behalf of the LEP), The University of Bradford and The University of Huddersfield, the programme has brought together a consortium of experienced and committed partners, all working together to give businesses a genuinely diverse and effective growth programme.

AD:VENTURE will assist a total of 1240 enterprises, leading to creation of 2400 new jobs. 640 new businesses will be created through information, advice, guidance and capability-building and best practice in enterprise development. ERDF eligibility criteria and local growth criteria apply.

AD:VENTURE is a £12 million programme and is receiving funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020

To register your interest in AD:VENTURE call 0845 524 0210 or email support@ad-venture.org.uk


Powerhouse station campaign stays on track

Powerhouse station supporters

The Chamber joined forces recently with Bradford Council and community representatives to demand commitment from government and Transport for the North for a Northern Powerhouse Rail station in Bradford city centre.

The campaign, Next Stop Bradford, highlight the benefits a Northern Powerhouse Rail (previously known as HS3) station in Bradford city centre will bring, not just to the Bradford economy but to the North as a whole.

A City Park photo-shoot shows leading figures from the region united in support of the campaign.

Andy Caton, President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce said:

Bradford President Andy Caton
Bradford President Andy Caton

“Access to talent is a high priority for any business looking to grow and invest. As a result, excellent connectivity is crucial to attract people to new and better jobs.  Siting a Northern Powerhouse Rail station in Bradford city centre makes sense not only for this city – putting, as it does, Bradford back on the main line – but for West Yorkshire generally.  The city has one of the fastest growing populations in the UK, but transport connectivity and congestion remains a key issue for many businesses and residents. Trans-Pennine travel is as important to them as North-South.  We also have our close neighbours Leeds backing the campaign.”

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council added:

“With a prime location in the centre of the Northern Powerhouse, Bradford is home to over 17,000 businesses including market-leading companies such as Provident Financial and Yorkshire Building Society and thriving SMEs. Benefiting from a rapidly growing young population and outstanding Higher and Further education institutions, Bradford is continuing to re-invent itself as a world class destination to live, work and invest.”

“The strong message we will continue to voice is that the north simply cannot be successful without Bradford being successful and the time to invest is now.”

The launch of the campaign follows the remarks by Northern Powerhouse Minister, Andrew Percy MP, at the Inclusive Growth event which took place in the city earlier this month where he stated “If I had my way, Bradford would have a stop on Northern Powerhouse Rail”.  Further political support has also come from local politicians in the district, Philip Davies MP and Judith Cummins MP, who have both raised this issue in the House of Commons.

Local MP, Judith Cummins, who is supporting the campaign and raising the issue with government Ministers said:

“Leeds and Bradford have the largest daily commuter flows between two cities anywhere in the country and contribute a combined £29.2bn in GVA to the national economy. As an economic powerhouse in its own right, it is unacceptable that connectivity between the two cities remains hampered by poor transport infrastructure.”

Photo-caption:  Chamber Chief Executive, Sandy Needham, was joined by, among others, Bradford and Leeds Presidents Andy Caton and Gerald Jennings; Leadership Group member Nasreen Karim and Broadway Centre manager Ian Ward;  in the forefront are (L-R) Cllrs Susan Hinchcliffe, Alex Ross-Shaw and Simon Cooke.

Pioneer project boosts teachers’ computer confidence

More than 50,000 primary school pupils in Yorkshire and the Humber have benefitted from a pioneering education programme to boost youngsters’ computing skills.

The Barefoot Computing project, which has now reached more than one million pupils UK-wide, helps primary school teachers get to grips with computing so that they can better help their pupils.

Led by BT and the British Computer Society, Barefoot offers free teaching resources and volunteer-led training workshops, designed to help primary school teachers get confident when teaching computer science and computing skills.

It is making a large impact across the UK with over 130,000 resources downloaded and more than 35,000 teachers using those resources.

In Yorkshire and the Humber 119 workshops have been held, attended by 1,980 teachers, who have then been better able to help more than 50,000 of their pupils.

Tom Keeney, chairman of BT’s regional board In Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Computing is a vital skill for the future of Yorkshire and the Humber. For the individual, it opens the door to a world of possibilities. Businesses and organisations of all types and sizes rely on this technology, while households use it for online learning, research and entertainment.

“BT volunteers are running workshops at schools the length and breadth of the region, giving teachers the confidence to teach computing skills to young people. Those skills will undoubtedly be used to successfully navigate a whole host of real-world challenges as they go through life.”

Barefoot was created in response to concerns that many young people today are passive consumers rather than active creators of technology – and risk being left behind.

Findings from research company Ipsos MORI and BT showed how important it is for the UK to step up its efforts on primary school tech literacy. Seventy-eight percent of primary school teachers think tech literacy is as important as reading and writing. Seventy-five percent strongly agreed it’s their job to prepare pupils for a digital world, but only 25 percent strongly agreed they felt able to do that. Barefoot is designed to address that need.

Liz Williams, BT’s director of tech literacy, said: “BT is delighted Barefoot has reached this major milestone because we know that the next generation’s life chances will be improved by being able to thrive in the digital world.”

Barefoot is part of BT’s Tech Literacy ambition and forms part of the long-term commitment by BT, unveiled in 2015, to help build a culture of tech literacy for the nation, reaching five million young people by 2020.

Sandy on the Beeb

Chamber Chief Executive Sandy Needham appeared on national TV yesterday to comment on the impact of the rail strike.

RMT union members in the North of England are protesting against the proposal for driver-only operated trains, following similar protests in the South for more than 12 months.  The BBC Breakfast show featured Steph McGovern speaking to union members, the public and Sandy in Leeds station at the height of what is usually rush hour.  Sandy highlighted that transport and commuter congestion remain a major concern for Yorkshire businesses but strike activity hampers the region’s economic effectiveness.

Rail unions say that the decision to put drivers in charge of operating carriage doors compromises overall safety, while train operators contest that and want the second train crew member to concentrate on taking fares and customer service.  The Chamber’s view is that the dispute is resolved as quickly as possible so that the local and regional economy can get back to business.

BCC comments on statement by Scottish First Minister

Commenting on the statement by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that she will seek a second Scottish independence referendum, Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Business communities all across the UK will be thinking, first and foremost, about the additional uncertainty that a second independence referendum would generate.

“Across Scotland – and throughout the UK – businesses want certainty, stability and confidence from governments. Firms understandably fear that another drawn-out constitutional debate would divert both Holyrood and Westminster away from delivering real-world practical support for business, investment, and growth.”

Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, added:

“It is welcome that the First Minister has indicated that the Scottish Government will continue to engage with the political process around the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.  These are vital years ahead for the future of the UK and Scottish economy and it is crucial that Scotland has a voice at the centre of this process.

“Scotland has been through two referendums and two major elections over the past three years, and there is no doubt that this period of continual uncertainty has had a material impact upon businesses in Scotland. These are real and present business issues that are affecting business decisions and investment.  A further referendum on Scotland’s independence would be no different, and the more that can be done to mitigate the duration of this uncertainty for business, the better.  The Scottish Chambers of Commerce network will continue our process of engagement with businesses across Scotland to understand how this prospect could affect them and how their voices can be most effectively articulated during this process.

“In the current circumstances, businesses need as much certainty, stability and confidence as possible and it is the role of our Governments to provide it. The message from Scottish Chambers of Commerce members has been clear and consistent – our priority must be to create the conditions that will enable businesses to thrive. That means focus and resources must be directed towards greater strategic infrastructure investment, developing the skills we need to sustain growth, fair business taxation that does not limit entrepreneurship and investment and clear guidance on entering and trading in overseas markets – all of which must have a clear evidential basis. These are the priorities for business and must be for our Governments too.”

Commentary from Chamber business communities in Scotland is available from our colleagues at Scottish Chambers of Commerce.

BCC launches Chamber Business Awards at London Stock Exchange

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has today launched its flagship Chamber Business Awards at London Stock Exchange. Scientifica, last year’s winner of the ‘Business of the Year’ award based in Sussex, had the honour of opening trading at London Stock Exchange, accompanied by Nus Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden, and Ana Christie, Chief Executive of Sussex Chambers of Commerce.

The prestigious competition is one of the showpiece events in the business calendar, recognising and promoting the best of British business through a series of regional heats, culminating in a Gala Awards Dinner, which will take place at the Brewery, London on 30 November.

Entries open today and will run until Friday 30 June. Next year’s winners of the Business of the Year award will have the same chance to open the market at London Stock Exchange as a prize, a rare opportunity for a private business.

Companies can enter nine categories, covering exports, small business, people development, technology, high-growth, customer service, partnerships with the education sector, social media, and health and wellbeing.

Francis Martin, President of the British Chambers of Commerce said:

“Businesses are the driving force of the UK economy, creating jobs, growth and prosperity, and helping Britain to maintain its reputation internationally. This is exactly why it is important for us to recognise and celebrate the contribution they make to their local communities and the wider economy.

“The broad spread of categories in the Chamber Business Awards reflects both the diversity of industries and skills of British firms, and the range of achievements and projects that they have been involved with.

“Each time I visit Chamber member businesses, it is inspiring to see so many companies finding innovative ways to grow their business in every corner of the UK. The Awards acknowledge the relentless efforts of these businesses and their talented employees.”

Adrian Corbin of Scientifica, Winner of the ‘Business of the Year’ award last year, said:

“Everyone at Scientifica is incredibly proud that the company won the British Chambers of Commerce Business of the Year. It is an enormous achievement and a fitting testimony to all the hard work that has gone into creating such a great company.

“We are at the forefront of high–tech British manufacturing, exporting our products to more than forty countries worldwide. We employ a highly-educated and international workforce who are all committed to producing innovative products to help further neuroscience research, and the winning of this award will undoubtedly help us expand into even more markets around the world.”

Umerah Akram, Head of ELITE UK, said:

“Ensuring the best of Britain’s innovative, imaginative and inspiring businesses can flourish in the UK is a priority for London Stock Exchange Group which is why we are proud to support the BCC Chamber Business Awards. Through ELITE, our unique business support and capital raising programme, we are creating a dynamic financial and entrepreneurial ecosystem, promoting the right type of funding for ambitious businesses at every stage of their growth journey.”

UK growth upgraded for 2017 but to remain flat in the medium-term

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has today (Tuesday) upgraded its UK GDP growth forecast for 2017 from 1.1% to 1.4%. However, it has downgraded its expectations slightly for 2018 from 1.4% to 1.3%, and published its first forecast for 2019 of 1.5% growth.

The leading business group upgraded its growth forecast for 2017, driven by an upward revision to UK GDP growth data in the final quarter of 2016, and stronger than expected levels of consumer spending. There has also been a slight improvement in the outlook for investment and trade, compared to our previous forecast.

However, economic growth is expected to remain well below its long-term average over the forecast period.

Inflation is forecast to breach the Bank of England’s 2% target this quarter, with companies facing higher input costs, which will be passed through to consumers. While average earnings are expected to hold steady, the inflationary pressures are likely to erode real wages. As a result, consumer spending, a driving force of growth in the economy in recent years, is expected to slow substantially.

The UK’s net trade position is expected to improve over the next few years. Investment is forecast to contract this year, with subdued growth predicted in the following years, as uncertainties relating to the outcomes of the UK’s negotiations with the EU persist, and increasing input costs and taxes hit businesses.

In this period of uncertainty, there are heightened risks to the forecast. Faster levels of inflation and increased anxiety around the Brexit negotiations could result in more muted growth, however if resilience in consumer spending continues, growth levels could be bolstered.

Key points in the forecast:

  • UK GDP growth forecast for 2017 is upgraded to 1.4%, but is expected to slow to 1.3% in 2018, before accelerating slightly to 1.5% in 2019. Growth of 0.4% is expected in Q1 2017
  • The improved growth forecast for 2017 is driven primarily by stronger than expected household consumption and ONS revisions to Q4 GDP data. GDP growth forecast for 2018 has been downgraded slightly from 1.4% to 1.3%, with consumer spending expected to weaken
  • The pace of inflation has picked up faster than expected and is forecast to breach the Bank of England’s 2% target early this year, growing by 2.4% in 2017, 2.7% in 2018 before slowing to 2.5% in 2019. This is higher than the previous forecast of 2.1% and 2.4% for 2017 and 2018 respectively
  • Consumer spending is expected to slow substantially from 1.6% in 2017, to 0.9% in 2018 and 1.1% in 2019 as inflationary pressures erode real wages
  • Business investment is expected to contract by 0.5% in 2017, before growth levels of 0.2% in 2018 and 1.0% in 2019
  • Export growth has been upgraded from 2.3% to 2.7% in 2017, and from 2.9% to 3.1% in 2018, and is expected to be 2.8% in 2019.
  • Looking at sectors, construction has been upgraded from -2.0% for 2017 to 0.4% and is expected to grow by 0.2% in 2018 and 1.0% in 2019. The services sector is expected to grow by 1.9% in 2017, 1.5% in 2018 and 1.7% in 2019. Manufacturing is to grow by 1.2%, 0.7% and 1.0% respectively.
  • The main downside risk to our forecast is if inflation rises by more than we currently predict which would be a further squeeze on consumer spending and business investment. The upside risk is if consumer spending current resilience continues. Under this scenario, our expectations for GDP growth would be substantially higher.

Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, said:

“Thanks to the hard work of businesses and the continued resilience of the redoubtable British consumer, the U.K. economy is likely to grow somewhat more strongly than we’d previously expected during 2017.

“Yet with several years of unspectacular growth ahead, coupled with inflationary pressures and the uncertain outcome of Brexit negotiations, it has never been more important to tackle the long-standing constraints that limit business confidence and growth here at home.

“Last week’s Budget was a missed opportunity for the government to double down on infrastructure improvements and support for international trade, and to lower the heavy up-front taxes and costs that undermine business investment. More thoughtful and radical moves to improve the business environment would give businesses – and GDP forecasts – a boost during a critical and complex time.”

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

“We have upgraded our growth forecast for 2017, driven by revisions to official GDP data and a stronger than expected end to 2016 for the UK economy.

“That said, the UK economy is still set to enter a more subdued period, with growth expected to remain materially below trend over the near term. The resilience in consumer spending, a key driver of UK growth, will slowly dissipate over the coming months as higher inflation and muted wage growth combine to erode consumer spending power.

“The UK’s trade position will improve across the forecast period supported by the depreciation of Sterling and an improving outlook for the global economy.

“The imbalances in the economy continue to leave the UK increasingly exposed to economic shocks. While household consumption’s contribution to UK GDP growth is likely to decrease over the near term, the slight improvement in investment and trade prospects over the same period is not expected to be enough to prevent a slowdown in overall growth.”

Businesses invited to join ‘5 Live’ immigration debate in Leeds

Businesses are being invited to take part in a ‘Question Time’ style debate on immigration and integration in Leeds on Radio 5 Live.5LiveNihalSarah

The debate takes place from 1-2.30pm on Thursday 23 March at Belgrave Music Hall, New Briggate.  Participants will need to attend by 11am though.  Questions can be submitted beforehand, with several posed live on air.  Requests to attend should be made to the BBC’s Laura Jones at 0161 335 6747 or  laura.jones@bbc.co.uk, preferably by 16 March (it won’t be possible to just turn up on the day).

The debate will be moderated by 5 Live’s Nihal Arthanayake and the panel will include at least four politicians and commentators, with an audience of 30 expected.

The show is the finale of a week of special programmes called ‘My Britain’ examining the different views on modern Britain and what divisions exist in the country.

BT recruits learners and learned

BT today announced it is creating more than 70 new apprenticeship and graduate jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber in its drive to equip young people with the skills and training needed to meet the challenges of a changing jobs market.

About 50 apprentices will be recruited in locations such as Doncaster, Leeds, Sheffield, York, Scarborough and Northallerton whilst more than 20 graduates are expected to be based in Leeds, Hull, Northallerton, Doncaster and Sheffield.

This year’s BT apprentice and graduate recruitment, which includes mobile operator EE, will see the new employees work in a variety of roles, ranging from customer service, vehicle maintenance and supply chain operations to cyber security.

BT is committed to building a culture of tech literacy within the UK so that the country remains a digital leader. The latest recruitment of 1,700 apprentices and graduates across the UK builds on the employment of nearly 2,500 in the past two years.

A number of the recruits will be based at BT’s world-recognised labs at Adastral Park, near Ipswich, in Suffolk. This research centre is at the forefront of developing communications networks and is playing a leading role in the development of ultrafast broadband and 5G.

The company also funds and runs Barefoot Computing, a project that helps primary school teachers get confident with teaching computer science. One million children, including more than 50,000 in Yorkshire and the Humber, have already been reached via the programme, which sees primary school teachers provided with resources and training, and BT plans to reach five million UK children by 2020.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Robert Halfon, has welcomed the announcement. He said: “It is always good to talk about apprenticeships and the ladder of opportunity they give people to secure the career they want.

“By committing to injecting 1,700 new graduate and apprentice jobs into the UK, BT is offering a real chance to be trained by some of the best in their field. This is especially great news ahead of what will be the 10th annual National Apprenticeship Week where we will showcase the life-changing potential of apprenticeships for people up and down the country.”

Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT, said: “Young people today need three basic skills – reading, writing, and tech know-how. BT is investing in the next generation, helping to train primary school teachers to teach computer science and recruiting large numbers of apprentices and graduates. This is the right thing for us to do if the UK is to remain a digital leader.

“It is an exciting time to join BT as it continues to invest in ultrafast broadband, 4G, television and sport. We are also preparing for future technologies, including 5G, and so we want to recruit the very best. Our apprenticeship and graduate roles will offer people the hands on experience they need to succeed.”

Tom Keeney, chairman of BT’s regional board In Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “This latest major recruitment is a further example of BT’s commitment to Yorkshire and the Humber as one of the region’s leading employers and investors. We are offering exciting, high quality careers in a fast moving industry in order to ensure the households and businesses of this region are able to benefit from the latest, first class communications. The new recruits will be joining a world-leading company, which has already invested hundreds of millions of pounds in the region in technologies such as superfast broadband and 4G.”

BT is one of the UK’s largest employers with 81,000 UK-based people. According to a recent report by Regeneris Consulting, the company supports around 14,300 jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber, through direct employment, spending with contractors and suppliers and the spending of employees – and gives an annual boost to the region’s economy worth nearly £1.12 billion.

Openreach, BT’s local network business, will launch its own recruitment drive in due course.