Welcome from Warwickshire County Council joint managing director Monica Fogarty

Monica Fogarty Full sizeHello and welcome to the May edition of Warwickshire Means Business.

With Brexit in the pipeline, the business world has been dealing with a backdrop of uncertainty for almost a year - and now we have a snap General Election to throw into the mix. These are interesting times, to say the least, but it is pleasing to hear that there is cautious optimism among our business community, as detailed in the Quarterly Economic Survey for the first quarter of 2017.

It is an encouraging picture and for a more detailed analysis of Labour Market trends within Warwickshire, please also see our Labour Market Bulletin, compiled by Warwickshire County Council economist Sam van de Scootbrugge.

Whatever fluctuations might impact the national and international economy, one thing can be relied on - our support for our county's business community remains steadfast. And in this edition of Warwickshire Means Business you can read about a number of funding schemes and initiatives now available.

A new £2 million RDPE grant fund is now on stream with Expressions of Interest welcome until January 2018. Similar grants in the past have been a springboard to great success for small and micro-businesses and we are keen to help many more firms succeed and grow.

Businesses often tell us that the skills gap is a major barrier to growth for them. So we have launched the Skills Challenge whereby grants of £20,000 to £40,000 are available to businesses that deliver a project to address a skills shortage or gap in our county.

Two other initiatives of mutual benefit to the business world its community of are now up and running: Active Inclusion and Progress. Please do have a read and consider whether you could get involved.

Meanwhile, our Inward Investment officers are constantly busy selling the county as a business base. It helps a great deal that Warwickshire has a fantastic reputation, as illustrated by so many global companies, big and small, choosing to settle here.

These are times of flux but in Warwickshire we are so lucky to have a highly-skilled, innovative and hugely-respected business community which is held in the highest regard nationally and internationally. Evidence of this came when the Department for International Trade invited digital creative sector leaders from across the world to the UK. The three regions chosen by the DIT to host the delegates were London, Manchester... and Warwickshire! Warwickshire County Council was proud to host the delegation and the day was a great success and will hopefully lead to business around the world.

Featured News

Advice to businesses following May 12 cyber-attack

Following the ransomware cyber attack on Friday 12 May which affected the NHS and is believed to have affected other organisations globally, the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has issued an alert urging both individuals and businesses to follow protection advice immediately and in the coming days.

Key Advice for Individuals To Protect Yourself From Ransomware:

– Install system and application updates on all devices as soon as they become available.

– Install anti-virus software on all devices and keep it updated.

– Create regular backups of your important files to a device (such as an external hard drive or memory stick) that isn’t left connected to your computer as any malware infection could spread to that too.

– Only install apps from official app stores, such as Google’s Play Store, or Apple’s App Store, as they offer better levels of protection than some third=party stores. Jailbreaking, rooting, or disabling any of the default security features of your device will make it more susceptible to malware infections.

Key Messages for Businesses To Protect Themselves From Ransomware:

– Install system and application updates on all devices as soon as they become available.

– Install anti-virus software on all devices and keep it updated.

– Create regular backups of your important files to a device that isn’t left connected to your network as any malware infection could spread to that too.

The National Cyber Security Centre’s technical guidance includes specific software patches to use that will prevent uninfected computers on your network from becoming infected with the “WannaCry” Ransomware: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/ransomware-latest-ncsc-guidance

For additional in-depth technical guidance on how to protect your organisation from ransomware, details can be found here: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/protecting-your-organisation-ransomware


Fraudsters may exploit this high-profile incident and use it as part of phishing/smishing campaigns. We urge people to be cautious if they receive any unsolicited communications from the NHS.

The advice for that is the following:

  • An email address can be spoofed. Don’t open attachments or click on the links within any unsolicited emails you receive, and never respond to emails that ask for your personal or financial details.
  • The sender’s name and number in a text message can be spoofed, so even if the message appears to be from an organisation you know of, you should still exercise caution, particularly if the texts are asking you to click on a link or call a number.

Don’t disclose your personal or financial details during a cold call, and remember that the police and banks will never ring you and ask you to verify your PIN, withdraw your cash, or transfer your money to another “safe” account.

If you have been a victim of fraud or cyber crime, please report it to Action Fraud at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/

For more information, please visit www.safeinwarwickshire.com/cybercrime

Meanwhile, locally, businesses in Warwickshire have access to constant updates and guidance on cyber-safety from the The Warwickshire Business Watch website which houses a variety of information to empower businesses to prevent traditional and cyber crime.

The Community Messaging Service continues to grow in popularity and regularly sends out alerts to businesses across the county. The ‘Keep Me Posted’ system also continues to grow rapidly, distributing to subscribers all information that is added to the Business Watch website. Information added to the website is sent directly into the subscriber’s inbox and includes incidents, events and important news on a range of topics from the local area.

To sign up to the Keep Me Posted Business Watch alerts visit the link below.


To access the Warwickshire Business Watch website and sign up to either of the Alerts visit: www.warwickshirebusinesswatch.co.uk or use the Twitter address @WarksBusiness.

Rural grants offer springboard to growth

Small and micro-businesses in rural Warwickshire have help at hand from a new £2 million grant fund to grow businesses and create jobs.

The Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) Growth Programme has allocated £1.5 million for business development grants to small and micro businesses, including social enterprises and farmers diversifying into non-agricultural activities.

The funding is aimed at enabling small rural businesses to become established and grow and also to fledge in new directions.

Similar recent grants have proved a springboard for success, as Jo Reynolds a director of Warwick-based Church Farm Brewery can testify.

In 2012, the business was awarded £25,000 from Warwickshire County Council's growth fund. The money enabled vital investment in new equipment and expansion of the brewhouse - and was a turning point for the business.

Church Farm Brewery, which employs four people, now brews 80 barrels per brew (up from 20) while turnover has doubled. As the business goes from strength to strength it was recently named Diversification Innovator of the Year at the British Farming Awards and featured on the BBC's Countryfile programme, watched by 8.5million viewers.

"Our decision to expand the brewery was a real leap of faith," said Jo. "We were confident that we had the product and expertise to make it a success but it was still a very big commitment and a very big decision.

"This type of funding was a real turning point. It allowed us to progress with the expansion and, touch wood, we haven't looked back. Our sales for the first quarter of this year were 59 per cent up year-on-year.

"The grant was a springboard for us and its value wasn't just financial. When you apply for something like that and experts look at your business plan and say 'yes' then it really lifts you. It gives you that extra confidence.

"We have further expansion in mind, into canned beer, so will be looking to access further grants if we can. The process of accessing this funding is not as onerous as it might seem and I would strongly urge all rural businesses to think seriously about applying."

Up to £500,000 has also been allocated for tourism grants for land-owners, people or groups representing rural communities, charities and public bodies.

Sean Farnell, board member of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Our region has an extremely strong and diverse rural economy and it is great news the area has been allocated further grant funding to boost businesses.

“Through the Rural Growth Network, partner organisations worked together successfully to enable innovation and create employment at a range of businesses and led to Warwickshire being named as one of the most enterprising places in Britain at the Enterprising Britain Awards.

“It is important we build on the progress that has been and for organisations to apply for a share of this new funding to further strengthen our rural economy.”

The new grant fund is open for expressions of interest until 31 January 2018.

The fund is part of a wider package of finance available to support Coventry and Warwickshire businesses including European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) investment grants, ERDF innovation grants, ERDF low carbon grants, LEADER grants in North Warwickshire and Warwickshire County Council’s Capital Growth Fund.

For more information about the RDPE Growth grants, visit:


Global industry leaders wowed by Warwickshire's Digital Creative Industry

An influential delegation from the Digital Creative Industry worldwide gained first-hand experience of what Warwickshire has to offer after the Department of International Trade selected the area as a showcase for potential investors.

DIT works with international companies to encourage them to set up in the UK or expand existing operations here. As part of this brief, they arranged for some of their Creative Digital specialists from around the world, including  Australia, France, India, Canada, Japan, the USA and Spain, to visit the UK and find out more about the local offer.

Coventry & Warwickshire, together with London and Manchester, were identified as hotpots for the Creative and Digital sector.

Warwickshire County Council’s inward investment service, Invest in Warwickshire, was asked to make introductions and put together an itinerary for delegates to better understand the local offer, with a particular focus on the games development cluster.

Sim Lee, an Inward Investment Officer at the council and local sector specialist, arranged the itinerary, and the feedback from the event was excellent. Delegates confirmed that they would be returning home ready to recommend Warwickshire as a great base for potential investors.

"The day went very well and all the visitors really engaged with what we had to say," said Mr Lee. "We showed them companies of all sizes from smaller enterprises at the Arch Creatives (a shared co-working space part-funded by Warwickshire County Council) and the micro-studios at 26 Hamilton Terrace, Leamington Spa, through to big AAA studios like Sega Hardlight.

"We were able to demonstrate how the sector works closely with educational institutions and how recreational games technology is being adapted for other uses such as automotive, health and education.

"We also wanted to show how joined-up the sector is here, with studios working together to support each other. For example, Sega Hardlight is very keen to help out at 26 Hamilton Terrace as it fosters and maintains local talent which they can tap into.

"Also, two of the micro-studios we saw at Hamilton Terrace sometimes work together on different projects, one being animators and the other games developers."

Visiting delegates included Liang Zheng (Head of Creative Industries, South China), Yan Zhang (Head of Creative Industries, North China),Tess Fowler (Head of Investment at the DIT in New South Wales, Australia), Azusa Oyama, (Investment Advisor ICT & Creative, Japan), Dimitris Horiatis (Tech & Creative Lead, New York) and Chris Roach (Creative & Tech, Chicago).

Also present was Lena Benson, a business development associate at the British Consulate General in Los Angeles, who said: "It was a pleasure to meet in Leamington Spa and see what the digital creative sector there has to offer. It was very impressive and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit."

"The delegates all loved seeing the games being made," added Mr Lee. "At Sega they were given a chance to play a new, unreleased game and they could have spent hours playing it!

"At each place they asked many questions and clearly were very interested in learning all they could about Warwickshire. The presentations were followed by some really good conversations between ourselves and the visitors, all of whom were very keen to swap contact details for when they returned home."

Groundbreaking golf-cart project developing in Nuneaton

A groundbreaking design for a semi-autonomous luxury golf cart is being developed by Baro Vehicles based at MIRA Technology Park in Nuneaton.

And the project is a perfect example of overseas expertise blossoming in Warwickshire after chief executive and co-founder Gabriel Giani decided the county was the perfect location in which to harness the product's potential.

Mr Giani originally started his idea in his home country of Argentina where he successfully built the first prototype.

He then made the decision to set up in the UK to access the wealth of automotive expertise and quality of engineering here.

Mr Giani particularly liked the look of what Warwickshire has to offer so contacted Warwickshire County Council’s Inward Investment team who got busy helping him to identify suitable premises and the right environment for a base.

MIRA Technology Park is a dedicated automotive campus where companies can carry out and test R&D projects and collaborate on-site. The Inward Investment team also helped Baro connect to new networks, local universities and support providers to get the project underway.

"It was great that Gabriel felt that Warwickshire had everything that his business needed as a base and we were delighted to be able to help," said one of the county council's Inward Investment Officers, Stephanie Williams.

"The project is a very exciting one and there was a lot we could do to help find the best location and also put Gabriel in touch of many useful local contacts."   

Baro Vehicles has just begun manufacturing the second prototype, Baro One, the first pre-series for customers in the UK, and other local businesses are already involved. Nuneaton-based VCS Manufacturing Ltd has been selected to design and develop the tooling and chassis. The strategic partner has been selected for their excellence in design, quality and services.

The golf cart will be of a unique design with no steering wheel or pedals, but fully controlled by an on-board tablet and computer. A joystick will be installed to allow the user to gain control of the cart where required.

The system will follow a predetermined route, avoid objects and allow the user to start adopting autonomy technology before it is fully deployed on the roads.

The company’s vision is to manufacture intelligent golf carts which provide a supreme luxury experience for large markets such as the US. In the future the vehicle could be adapted to use in airports and big cities to support key factors such as energy-efficiency, reduce human error and traffic congestion.

Inward Investment flooding in to Warwickshire

Warwickshire's reputation as a great place to base and grow a business continues to attract major investment from companies around the world.

Among big names to be investing heavily in Warwickshire in 2017 are China-powered giants Geely and Detroit Electric, who between them are ploughing more than £600million into their bases in the county.

The London Taxi Company (part of Chinese automotive group Geely, which also owns the Volvo car company) has opened their new facility at Ansty, paving the way for the creation of 1,000 new jobs.

The new factory has the capacity to produce over 30,000 electric vehicles and is the first purpose-built electric vehicle plant in the UK. It will build the new electric hybrid TX5 taxi which, together with the new plant, represents an investment in excess of £300m by Geely.

Meanwhile, the plans of electric vehicle maker Detroit Electric to grow its base in Leamington Spa will also comprise a £300m investment, part of an overall £1.5bn investment in the region promised by Detroit's new parent company Far East Smarter Energy Group of China.

Detroit Electric was an early pioneer of electric vehicles in the early twentieth century and the prestige name has been revived to grace a range of electric vehicles to compete with premium electric vehicle makers like Tesla and BMW.

Detroit's decision to invest in Warwickshire follows a pattern of major investments from automotive companies eager to access the local auto and technology supply chain available and the county's expertise in low-carbon powertrain and autonomous technologies.

Meanwhile, alongside the region's attraction for automotive businesses, its position at the forefront of the digital and creative sector goes from strength to strength as Leamington ‘Silicon' Spa welcomes triple AAA studio Ubisoft.

The French company has opened their new studio, known as Ubisoft Leamington, to add to their existing studios in Newcastle and London.

They join SEGA, Epic Games UK, Natural Motion and Exient among those locating in and around Leamington Spa, as well as a growing number of micro and small studios that have set up here since Codemasters arrived in Southam in the early 1980s.

Meanwhile, Nuneaton-based Japanese automotive engineering consultancy HORIBA MIRA has launched an exciting new partnership with Coventry University. The partnership will bring a new automotive research centre which will explore intelligent connected vehicle technology.

The Nuneaton company and Coventry University will develop and test new technologies to address future transport needs from the hub on MIRA Technology Park. An initial team of up to 20 academic staff and doctoral research students from the university will work alongside HORIBA MIRA engineering teams on projects.

The sustained investment from big global companies is excellent news for Warwickshire, says Dave Ayton-Hill, Economy & Skills Group Manager at Warwickshire County Council.

"That so many companies choose to not only set up in Warwickshire but also invest heavily here, just shows what an excellent place it is to locate a business, " he said. "The council's Inward Investment team is constantly busy working with businesses from all over the world as word spreads about what Warwickshire has to offer.

"We have helped secure a high amount of Foreign Direct Investment into the county in recent years, generating thousands of new jobs, increasing our productivity and bringing new products, services and innovation. Inward investment is vital in driving a successful economic area, as it pumps financial and knowledge capital into a locality and often brings new technology and ways of working."

Business encouraged to take advantage of Skills Challenge funding

Warwickshire County Council is tackling skills shortages in the workplace head on by making five-figure grants available to businesses which take up the Skills Challenge.

In 2017, many businesses regard skills shortages as one of the key barriers to growth. So the council has launched the Skills Challenge whereby expressions of Interest (EOI) are invited from businesses to deliver projects which address a proven skills shortage or gap in Warwickshire.

Grant-funding worth £20,000 to £40,000 is available to successful applicants. EOIs are welcome from all businesses or organisations representing businesses, such as sector bodies, trade associations and town-centre management groups.

"Many businesses feel that major skills shortages and gaps are holding them back," said Warwickshire County Council's head of transport and economy Mark Ryder. "We want to try to help alleviate these difficulties, so we are keen to hear from businesses and work with them to develop effective solutions.

"We hope to receive a lot of EOIs, which need not be fully-formed bids but can be just ideas which we can then help advance.

"This new grant funding is being made available to tackle specific skills challenges. Getting more young people into employment with relevant skills is in everyone's interests, as businesses receive an opportunity to train talented recruits while those young people get a great start to their career path."

Skills Challenge projects can be occupation or sector-specific or in a particular geographic area. For example, the challenge may be to train computer programmers, increase the number of applicants for jobs in the construction industry or provide more apprentices (of various types) to work in Rugby town-centre.

EOIs must demonstrate the Skills Challenge with relevant research, data or other information. Education or training-providers may partner business organisations submitting bids e.g. lead on writing the bid/manage delivery of the project if it is successful.

EOIs must also outline specific outcomes to be achieved by the proposed project with those outcomes appropriate to the needs of businesses to benefit, e.g. new skills achieved through training/recruitment of an apprentice or other young person aged 16-24/achievement of higher-level qualification by existing employees.

EOIs may be submitted at any time until Saturday 30th September. Organisations submitting successful EOIs will be invited to develop full proposals and decisions on full proposals will be made within 20 working days.

Delivery of activity in successful applicants must be complete by 31 July, 2018.

For more details, please e-mail skillsforemployment@warwickshire.gov.uk

Figures show Warwickshire is national leader for business start-ups

The Coventry and Warwickshire region is the entrepreneurial capital of England, new figures have revealed.

A recent survey by BankSearch Information Consultancy delved into which regions, defined by Local Enterprise Partnership areas, are performing best in terms of new companies being established.

Across England, the number of new business starts in the year to February 2017 grew by 1.2% - yet in the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) area, it went up by a massive 11.9%.

That is way above the national average. and, according to the data, makes Coventry and Warwickshire the fastest growing area in the country.

When broken down into individual districts, Warwick performed best with a 22.5% increase in start-up activity, followed by Nuneaton and Bedworth which grew by 15% and Coventry which went up by 14.8%.

There was still healthy growth elsewhere in the region with Rugby (3.7%), North Warwickshire (3.6%) and Stratford (3.2%) all performing better than the national average.

Craig Humphrey, managing director of the CWLEP Growth Hub, is very encouraged by the trend.

“These figures bode very well for our regional economy," Mr Humphrey said. "Of course, everyone knows some of the wonderful names we have in this region – from Jaguar Land Rover through to Holland & Barrett. But while the bigger businesses are key to our regional success, smaller companies account for a huge number of jobs and have a major economic impact on our area.

“So to see our LEP area coming out strongest when it comes to business start-ups over the past year is extremely positive news."

Mr Humphrey added that, while he is well aware that the process of growing a business is a big challenge, a lot of help is available in this region.

“At the LEP we will continue to create the right conditions for entrepreneurs to flourish," he said.

"We recognise the challenges involved in starting up a business and then moving it on to the next level. Moving into premises, taking on staff and then dealing with your company’s growth can be daunting and unfamiliar. We are not taught how to run a business at school.

“However, there is a great deal of help in this area, through the local authorities, the two universities and business support organisations, to help companies take their next steps."

Among those here to help is Warwickshire County Council's Inward Investment Team which offers a wide range of help and advice to businesses of all sizes and sectors, whether they are trying to grow or are interested in relocating to Warwickshire from elsewhere.

For more details please visit http://invest.warwickshire.gov.uk/

For more information on the CWLEP Growth Hub, call 0300 060 3747.

CWLEP launches Blueprint for Growth of region's digital creative sector

A new strategy for growing the local games cluster and wider digital creative sector has been launched by Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP).

The CWLEP, in partnership with games trade body Ukie, has launched Games Industry in Coventry and Warwickshire – Blueprint for Growth.

It highlights the cultural and economic contribution made to the region by the games industry and makes recommendations for how to grow it and benefit the wider digital creative sector. The report also shows how the region's games sector is a real 21st century growth industry, contributing economically and culturally to the region’s success.

Around 130 of the UK’s best games businesses are based in the West Midlands, notably in and around Leamington’s ‘Silicon Spa,’ creating highly skilled, productive jobs and opportunities throughout the region.  At any one time, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 full time employees in more than 50 games companies in and around Leamington out of a total of 3,000-3,500 games industry professionals across the West Midlands.

Findings in the report include:

  • These are highly skilled and productive jobs. In 2015, the games industry in the West Midlands generated an estimated £224 million in GVA, of which £188 million was from the core of 50 firms clustered around Leamington, Southam and Warwick.
  • The heritage and culture of Silicon Spa are a source of competitive advantage for the region. The cluster of games companies in the West Midlands has developed over more than two decades through a distinctive focus on quality and creativity. It is an outstanding example of developing regional economic growth through smart specialisation in a sector that demonstrates clear advantages over its competitors in international markets.
  • Games are an example of digital manufacturing, requiring and developing a blend of transferable 21st century skills. Making games is a fusion of art, design, programming, data analysis, science, maths – all skills transferable to other sectors. The process of developing games creates innovation in technology and tools for their manufacture, many of which are transferable to other sectors.
  • The continued success of Silicon Spa should not be taken for granted. Whilst the macro-economics of the games industry and its attraction to new entrants have never been healthier, it has never been harder for independent producers to create profitable new titles. The issues that face the games sector are complex and specific. Games businesses therefore need industry-led and sector-specific expertise and support.

The report makes recommendations to the CWLEP, local authorities, West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the Midlands Engine, Westminster and Ukie to:

  • Invest in specialist games sector support and development of an interactive media and digital manufacturing cluster
  • Promote the heritage and culture of Silicon Spa as a source of regional competitive advantage; a distinctive digital manufacturing sector that also develops enabling technologies to catalyse growth in other priority industry sectors
  • Underpin the supply of talent through a range of industry-led approaches to skills in schools, colleges and universities, building on evidence of international best practice
  • Explore ways to use co-investment to unlock investment in new IP and growth
  • Celebrate Games as Culture as part of a story of cutting edge UK innovation, offering a stimulus to education, inward investment and the visitor economy
  • Encourage collaboration between games businesses, universities and research institutes to build a supportive and forward-looking climate for R&D and innovation across the region
  • Encourage information-sharing between councils, landlords and developers to ensure supply of a range of workspace across Coventry & Warwickshire to meet the diverse needs of existing businesses, start-ups and inward investors
  • Work with internet-providers and the Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) to address shortcomings in the digital communications infrastructure that place businesses across Coventry & Warwickshire, and games companies in particular, at a disadvantage to other UK regions and to international competitors.

The full report can be accessed online here.

Local employers urged to support programme to help young people ‘Progress’

Employers across Coventry and Warwickshire are being encouraged to help create the next generation of employment success stories by offering skills-sessions and job opportunities to young people enrolled on the youth programme, ‘Progress.'

The programme, which started in October 2016, aims to increase the number of businesses and organisations on board to help young people across the region receive first-hand experience of a work environment and help inspire and shape a positive work outlook.

Progress works with some of the most marginalised NEET (not in education, employment or training) 15-24-year-olds across Coventry and Warwickshire and those who are the furthest away from getting into work. It has been led by community charity Groundwork UK alongside a partnership of leading youth charities and local partners specialising in engaging young people.*

Graham Duxbury, CEO of Groundwork UK, said: “The vision and passion that young people bring to the table can help to inspire companies to embrace new ideas, technologies and help make positive, future-proof changes.

“We are keen for employers to get involved and help the young people on the programme to reach their true potential, as well as seeing the benefits that young people can also offer their business.”

The programme is designed to not only prepare young people for the world of work through skills-based and educational support, but increase the confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing of those enrolled on the programme to ensure that they have a positive attitude towards both work and life.

Graham added: “By joining forces and working closely with local employers and expert delivery partners, we can ensure that all young people who are enrolled with the programme will receive a unique, tailored programme of support that suits individual need and ultimately helps them to secure a future worth working for.”

For more information about how you can get involved through offering work taster sessions, skills sessions or job opportunities, please email progress@groundwork.org.uk for further information or visit: www.groundwork.org.uk/progress.

The Progress programme is part of Building Better Opportunities - a programme funded by the European Social Fund and the Big Lottery Fund to tackle poverty and social exclusion faced by the most disadvantaged people in England.

• Through a personalised plan of support, the Progress programme will support at least 840 NEET or at risk of NEET young people into or towards employment, training, or education by the end of December 2018.

• *Progress will be delivered by a partnership of leading youth charities and local partners specialising in engaging young people: Citizens Advice, Coventry City Council, Groundwork West Midlands, Heart of England Mencap, Hereward College, Motorvate UK, Positive Youth Foundation, Target Support for Young People (Warwickshire County Council), Team SpringBoard, The Learn2 Group, Valley House, Values Education For Life, Voluntary Action Coventry and Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs.

Building Better Opportunities is also working across Coventry and Warwickshire to deliver:

• Breakthrough – a two year programme supporting people across Coventry and Warwickshire to improve their financial capability, overcome obstacles and develop their natural skills. http://www.bbobreakthrough.org.uk

• Accelerate – a free employability service for disadvantaged job seekers in Coventry and Warwickshire and provides local employers with access to a diverse pool of work-ready talent. www.accelerate.org.uk

Old Shire Hall heritage put to business use

Great HallA landmark Warwick building has been given a new lease of business life by its owners Warwickshire County Council.

The Old Shire Hall, a Grade I listed building on Northgate Street, will be conserved and protected for use by future generations after its reinvention as a premier hospitality venue.

Previously home to Warwick Crown Court, The Old Shire Hall has been a focal point of the Warwick community for more than 250 years.

This magnificent building now has a vibrant future to go with its historic past after the county council identified a way to keep this important part of Warwick's heritage in public use.

Work is ongoing to equip the historic building with everything it needs to serve as a prestigious 21st-century venue for events from corporate events and awards nights to galas dinners and wedding receptions.

Judge\'s HouseKushal Birla, Head of Customer Service at Warwickshire County Council, said: "We are delighted that this historic building has been brought back to life. The Old Shire Hall has been at the heart of Warwick's community for 250 years and this means that it will continue to be so.

"The county council, as custodian of this wonderful building, is committed to the future preservation of The Old Shire Hall. By operating the building in this way it will have a sustainable future, generate the income required to maintain a Grade I listed building and make a lasting contribution to Warwick’s economy.

"We are committed to working in a way that respects the heritage of our outstanding building.”

If you would like to make an enquiry about The Old Shire Hall, please call (01926) 736350 or email oldshirehall@warwickshire.gov.uk.

More information is also available on The Old Shire Hall website

Available now - the latest Quarterly Labour Market Bulletin

Every quarter, Warwickshire County Council's Economy & Skills team publishes the Labour Market Bulletin to analyse the latest labour market fluctuations in the county.

The aim is to provide businesses, stakeholders and other interested parties with up-to-date employment, unemployment and job market trends. The second issue was published at the start of May and covers labour market data from the last three months of 2016.

The headline statistics show that employment and labour force participation in the county have fallen whilst the unemployment rate has risen. Despite these movements, long run trends show that Warwickshire is outperforming the rest of the West Midlands in many aspects of the labour market. For example, not only is a greater proportion of Warwickshire’s workforce in employment, those in employment are, on average, better-qualified and more productive.

The bulletin also considers the historically rigid labour market in Warwickshire which could provide an explanation for the recent fluctuations in (un)employment and the county’s strong labour productivity performance.

Annual data suggests Warwickshire is a driver of UK productivity and is set to surpass the national average by 2017. This optimistic outlook has undoubtedly been a catalyst for the strong job market demand and business headlines also discussed in the report.

The full Labour Market Bulletin can be viewed here. If you would like to be added to the distribution list to receive future editions straight into your inbox, please email samvandeschootbrugge@warwickshire.gov.uk

Active Inclusion programme bringing people into employment

Businesses are being encouraged to get involved with a programme designed to help people with a mental health condition get into, or back into, employment.

The new European Social Fund and Warwickshire County Council-funded programme 'Active Inclusion,' delivered in partnership with mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, is designed to support people with mental health issues and enable them to gain and sustain work.

It also strives to help young offenders improve their educational outcomes, thereby reducing their offending behaviour.

The programme was launched in March and will continue until December 2019 with the objective of supporting more than 350 Warwickshire residents.

Those residents will each receive an invaluable pathway into employment while the businesses which take them on get a chance to tap into talent until now, for various reasons, untapped.

Dr John Linnane, Director of Public Health, Warwickshire County Council, wants all local business to consider getting involved.

“For most of us, being in paid work is essential for our wellbeing and financial security," said Dr Linnane. "Yet we know that people with mental health conditions face particular challenges with securing and retaining employment.

"As Director of Public Health for Warwickshire, I urge all of our local businesses to work with Rethink to help us to raise the employment rate for this particularly disadvantaged group.

"We know, through national and international research, that supported employment for people with mental health conditions works. It provides financial stability and helps with longer-term recovery and wellbeing for the individual.

"Rethink locally have already supported 95 individuals over the last three years into supported employment, but we need to do more and want to work with you and your business to make this happen."

Warwickshire County Council is managing the programme while Rethink Mental Illness delivers the mental health element as part of the Warwickshire Mental Health Employment Support Service (recently expanded through the European Social Fund). Rethink Mental Illness is a highly-respected organisation which, for 40 years, has brought people together to support each other through services, groups and campaigns.

The programme will be highly personalised and tailored specifically to each individual on it. Participants can be on the programme for as long as necessary in order to achieve their results.

Rethink Mental Illness service manager Karen Groves said: "We have provided specialist mental health employment support in Warwickshire for 15 years. Over that time we have seen the positive difference that targeted and specialist employment support has had on what is one of the biggest ‘want-to-work groups’ out there. There are great outcomes for amazing individuals who want to be part of something and contribute just like everyone else.

"However the stigma attached to mental illness often means discrimination or stereotyping which, in turn, excludes this group of highly motivated, intelligent and loyal people from the general workforce. And that is such a loss to business.

"The additional ESF funding means that we are now able to offer even more support to more people across Warwickshire which can only be a good thing.

If your business would like to get involved please contact karen.groves@rethink.org

For more information about Rethink Mental Illness please visit www.rethink.org

Businesses working together as Rugby Drive

A new initiative has been launched to help Rugby businesses operate in the commercial fast lane.

Rugby Drive has been formed by a group of local business-owners in partnership with the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP Growth Hub to promote collaborative working between local businesses and deliver practical activities that help businesses thrive. 

Around 100 company-owners and managers attended the launch of Rugby Drive at the Benn Hall, which was organised by a group of local business people working together with the CW Growth Hub, Rugby Borough Council and Warwickshire County Council.

The event was to spark a series of masterclass sessions covering a range of issues designed to help companies increase their trading – and form closer links with each other as well as informing them of support already available to growing businesses.

Rich Warren, of the CWLEP Growth Hub, said Rugby Drive had come about as more companies realise the potential of Rugby as a place to do business.

“Rugby Drive is very much by the businesses of Rugby for the businesses of Rugby,” he said. “The Growth Hub, together with other organisations such as the FSB, are lending support to ensure that they get the help they need.

“There is a recognition that the town has a large number of successful and vibrant businesses, but quite often they work totally independently of each other and possibly miss out on potential work right on their doorstep.

“Rugby Drive will act as a platform for business to improve their knowledge of the local commercial market, share best practice and also add to their range of skills through a series of classes.

“But that has to be driven by them. The people who originated the idea of Rugby Drive are acting as ambassadors and are keen to hear what businesses would most benefit from in terms of masterclasses. Our message is: 'Get involved!'”

The first masterclass, on Thursday 25th May, will give tips on how companies can build a profitable client-base in their local community.

Mickey Clarke, of Clarke's Consulting, is one of the Rugby Drive ambassadors and was part of a business panel at the launch.

“Rugby Drive was extremely well received," she said. "It was clear there is a real appetite from local businesses to work with others in the area and I think we have got a very strong base to work from.

“But it will only work if that energy and momentum continues and we are encouraging businesses to give feedback on what information their business needs to grow their activities in this area.”

Details of the first masterclass can be found at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/building-a-local-community-for-profit-tickets-33499692482?aff=erelexpmlt

Any business wishing to take part should go to the Rugby Drive website www.rugbydrive.co.uk or contact Rugby Drive via the Growth Hub on 0300 060 3747

Hack the Heat at Tech Central event

Business people and representatives from our local universities, Warwick District Council and Warwickshire County Council's Economic Development teams gathered to "Hack the Heat" last month in a joint Tech Central and Baxi-hosted event.

Baxi, a 150-year-old manufacturing business, has a share of Warwickshire heritage following its purchase of Potterton’s in 1999. Now the former Potterton's warehouse is a hub for the firm's innovation programme.

"What is the future of heat?" Dave Willetts asked his audience as they took part in various activities in the Innovation Bunker including discussing how to use their skills to start their own heating business.

And the event was well-timed. With the West Midlands Combined Authority launching their Energy Capital programme and the demand for power predicted to increase sixfold year on year, it is crucial to evaluate all our energy needs. With employers like National Grid, Severn Trent, and Baxi and fantastic research institutions like Warwick and Coventry University this region has a significant role to play in the future of energy innovation.

"Smart meters, sensors and app development will all have their part to play in the future of heating our homes and Tech Central was created to bring these organisations together," said Sarah Windrum, CEO of The Emerald Group and CWLEP Board Director. "Tech Central was established in 2016 and is a business-led networking group with crucial support from both Warwick District and Warwickshire County Council."

Chris White was among the guests and he spoke about the importance of highlighting the innovative eco-system in this area."We have all the skills and talent we need right here," he told the room, "and it's great to see groups like Tech Central bringing the innovators together."

Tech Central will be hosting its next event at The Star & Garter on 22nd June at 6.30pm followed by a jointly hosted event with Black Pepper Software in the near future. To subscribe to the Tech Central mailing list please click here.

County boost from 40,000 visitors for Women's Tour

Warwickshire's economy will receive a significant boost next month when the world's top women cyclists visit as part of the OVO energy Women’s Tour 2017.

For the second year running, Warwickshire County Council, in partnership with the University of Warwick, will host a stage of the Tour.

And Friday 9 June is in the diary for a visit to Warwickshire for thousands of people from around the country, judging by last year's figures.

In 2016, the first time the Tour came to Warwickshire, 75,000 spectators lined the route - and event organisers are hoping for an even greater turnout this time round.

Evaluation of the Tour's passage through the county last June revealed the event provided a healthy boost to the local economy. 

The Warwickshire stage was attended by an estimated 75,000 people, of whom approximately 40,000 (53%) came from outside the county. This provided a massive boost to the tourism and catering industries. One in seven of these visitors (14%) stayed overnight with the average length of stay totalling 3.3 days.

Other Warwickshire businesses shared in the success of the event thanks to the high spending by groups of visitors at just under £40 per group. This benefited a range of sectors, such as the food and drink industry (gross spending by visitors of just over £2million); local shops and those offering souvenirs (gross spending of just over £740,000); hotels and other accommodation (just under £540,000) and local transport (just over £150,000).

The cyclists travelled the length of the county with spectators gathering along the route from the start in Atherstone, through North Warwickshire before taking in the campus of the University of Warwick, Kenilworth, Warwick town centre and Shipston-on-Stour, before finishing in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Extensive media coverage of the race placed Warwickshire centre-stage of a potential global viewing audience of 80 million homes worldwide, as well as drawing the attention of the regional and national press. The return of The Women’s Tour in 2017 is another wonderful opportunity to showcase Warwickshire at its best.

For more information on business opportunities from the event, please contact Chris Egan, Women’s Tour Project Manager on 01926 412 813 or email chrisegan@warwickshire.gov.uk

Confidence remains high despite ongoing Brexit uncertainty

Companies across Coventry and Warwickshire have delivered a confident outlook about their prospects – despite continuing international uncertainty.

The Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Warwickshire County Council, have conducted the first Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) of 2017 - and it reveals that optimism in the area is stronger than at the end of 2016.

The QES results, based on an Economic Outlook Index, show whether respondents feel things are getting better or worse, with a score of 50 suggesting firms feel circumstances will stay exactly the same.

Overseas orders across the region are showing particular strength – with manufacturing and service sector companies reporting growth. In manufacturing, the Index stood at 67.5 – up more than 10 points compared to the turn of the year.

Services showed a more modest increase but the Index stands at 67.6, with the lower pound being credited as the main reason for exporters from the region seeing an increase in orders.

Domestically, the figures were not quite as strong in manufacturing with the Index showing at 61.3 – still up on the previous quarter – and in services it was at 67.6 which was higher than three months ago.

In terms of overall business confidence, both manufacturing (76.0) and services (78.9) are showing a very healthy outlook with turnover being forecast to rise. Regarding employment, investment and cashflow, the Index is still positive but there were slight dips in manufacturing compared to the previous quarter.

Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said companies across the patch were confident about the year ahead.

“After the Brexit vote, there was a bit of a wobble in confidence," Ms Bennett said. "But over the past few months we are seeing companies look ahead with optimism.

“They are alert to the fact that there is uncertainty but, with the outcome impossible to forecast and everything else is going on in the world, they are looking at their own businesses and their own plans for the future and they feel confident.

“We are delighted to be working with Warwickshire County Council in producing the QES and the new Economic Outlook Index makes it very easy to measure against sentiment on previous quarters. On nearly every indicator, manufacturers and service sector companies feel they are in a better place than three months ago, which bodes well.”

Warwickshire County Council economist Sam Van de Schootbrugge believes the survey provides plenty of scope for optimism.

"The Economic Outlook Index (the overall outlook for the local economy) for Quarter One 2017 is up on Quarter Four 2016," he said. "This optimism was shared equally between the manufacturing and service sectors, both of which have also increased since last quarter.

"The positive outlook is driven by a significant increase in domestic and overseas manufacturing orders in response to exchange-rate fluctuations post-referendum. Exporting services was also on the up, though domestic orders in the service sector were marginally down. Despite a contraction of domestic orders, the service sector expects to employ more people and invest more into training and recruitment.

"All-in-all the Business Confidence Index stands at a very healthy level, up 16% on 2016 for manufacturers and 2% for those in the service sector. This confidence resembles the higher-than-expected UK-wide economic growth. However, consumer spending has slowed in the last quarter, so it will be interesting to see the impact on businesses in the next survey.

"The second half of the QES handles more specific questions related to Coventry and Warwickshire’s businesses and there was a focus towards barriers to growth and business support in this quarter’s edition with the aim of better understanding the problems which businesses face locally. This innovative and unique approach to the Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce QES allows policy-makers to more effectively channel resources towards promoting business growth."

* Every business can play an important part in the compilation of the next QES by filling in this questionnaire: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/warkscountycouncil

"We would urge all business to take up this important opportunity to provide real-time intelligence and feedback on how their business is doing," said Mr de Schootbrugge. "The information will be used to shape and inform policy so is a really important way for businesses to get involved."


Apprenticeships celebrated at WCG graduation ceremony

Apprentices, employers, family and friends celebrated National Apprenticeship Week 2017 at Warwickshire College Group’s Apprenticeship Graduation and Celebration of Awards ceremony at The Old Shire Hall, Warwick.

The apprentices were celebrating completing a wide range of apprenticeships, from engineering and social media to horticulture and welding, within businesses large and small, local and national.

The ceremony began with a drinks reception at the Grade One listed venue The Old Shire Hall before guest of honour, Chris White MP, gave a keynote speech. The apprentices then took to the stage to receive their official scrolls from WCG Group Principal and CEO, Angela Joyce.

Awards were also made to Outstanding Apprentices in three industry sectors.

  • Colin Hankinson, apprentice in engineering maintenance for DHL Supply Chain, won the award for Outstanding Apprentice in Engineering and Construction
  • Adam Barnes, apprentice in production horticulture at Cotswold Garden Flowers, won the award for Outstanding Apprentice in Land-based Industries
  • Ella Jackson, apprentice in business administration at Robert Welch, won the award for Outstanding Apprentice in Service Industries.

Angela Joyce, Group Principal and CEO of WCG said: “This ceremony is an opportunity for us to recognise and reward apprentices in the same way as those who have studied for a degree, so it was wonderful to see family, friends and employers coming together to celebrate the apprentices’ achievements.

“As the largest college provider of apprenticeships in the West Midlands, with over 2,500 apprentices training with us every year, we are already looking forward to the next ceremony in September. Congratulations to all of the apprentices who were recognised tonight - we wish them all the very best for the future and continued success in their careers.”

Mark Treadwell, 21 from Stratford-upon-Avon, was one of the apprentices graduating, and also stepped in to organise the event when a colleague was taken ill. Mark completed his Level Three apprenticeship in Social Media, before securing a role as Event and Marketing Assistant at WCG.

He said: “It was a really busy week but it all went really well on the night. I hope all the apprentices enjoyed the ceremony and are proud of their achievements. By doing an apprenticeship I think we have all set ourselves up for a positive future career-path.”

Ella Jackson, 20, also from Stratford, won the Service Industries Outstanding Apprentice Award. She completed her Level Two apprenticeship in Business Administration with Robert Welch Design in Chipping Campden. “I didn’t expect to win at all," she said. "It was a really good surprise. I’ve always worked, even while I was studying, so I knew I liked hands-on experience which meant an apprenticeship was right for me, rather than university.

“One of the best things about doing the apprenticeship is becoming part of a team. I didn’t expect to build such strong relationships so soon, but I’ve really enjoyed being part of the team and I feel really valued as an employee.

“I think apprenticeships are a good choice - you get the hands-on experience, you get paid and there are opportunities to progress onwards. I’m continuing with a Level Three apprenticeship and hoping to go further with the company’s support.”

WCG offers a broad range of apprenticeships in a variety of industries. For more information, go to www.warwickshire.ac.uk/apprentices.

Turning your customers into fans can make the difference

A Warwickshire start-up company is aiming to help its clients turn their customers into fans.

Warwick entrepreneur Paul Martin has called upon his experience across a range of industries, including telecoms, media, semi-conductors and automotive, to launch FanBase Consulting Limited.

With a career divided between the USA and UK, Paul has seen a wide variety of customer service and experiences. And following support from the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, he is now drawing on those experiences to help companies improve their service to achieve business growth.

“Our work is based on the concept that businesses that want to be very successful should aim to develop a fan-base not ‘just’ a customer-base,” said Paul. “While all businesses have customers that buy from them – some more than others – not many have fans that help their business grow and develop. Those that do are industry leaders and reaping the biggest rewards.

“To develop fans, businesses need to perform excellently for customers. Customer excellence is a capability that can be defined and improved so, by definition, it is possible for any business to control its own destiny.”

He added: “I have started my own business because I felt strongly that the disciplines of customer excellence, if applied to British SMEs, could lead to world-class performance, market leadership and the knock-on effect of economic prosperity, which is something everyone in the UK cares about.

“At this time of economic uncertainty there is one thing that I feel certain about – customers will buy from the companies they respect, trust and value the most.”

Paul warns, however, that companies across the region are in a global race for ‘fans’ not just a local one.

“Being the best in the world at what you do is incredibly challenging,” he said, “just ask any top CEO or sportsperson.

“The good news is that with the right focus, structure and desire, it is truly possible to be the best.”

FanBase Consulting received start-up support from the Chamber, through the Coventry and Warwickshire Business Support Programme, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, in partnership with Coventry City Council, Warwickshire County Council and the District and Borough Councils. 

Paul was assigned a business coach – Tanya King – and received one-to-one support across areas such as the creation of a website, local contacts and access to finance to help get the company started.

“I have run businesses before, but it was different this time,” Paul said. “Tanya helped me figure out some of those practical matters. Now I am benefiting from the growing network of other businesses I am meeting through the Chamber.”

Tanya said: “Paul has lots of experience in business so he understood the benefit of accessing start-up support through the Chamber.  We would urge anyone thinking of starting a business to get in touch.”

For more information or to book on to the Business Support programme call the Chamber on 024 7665 4321 or log onto www.cw-chamber.co.uk

Guest column

It's all in the team...

As the chair of Leadership Boards, and a Business Coach, I work with directors of businesses across all industries and hear their challenges first hand. And always close to the top of the list are people issues – whether it is attracting and retaining top talent or dealing with problem staff.

You’ve heard it all before - so why is it so hard to get right? Perhaps because we are all human – unpredictable, unique with individual strengths and often hidden potential.

We all know that machines, computers and cars need regular maintenance, repair, re-calibration and continuous improvement. We even update the software on our phones. So what about our teams? 

People come in all shapes and sizes and so do their personalities and behaviours. Whether nature or nurture, we are all a complex mix of behaviours and habits with individual strengths. But those strengths can become weaknesses…

Just as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so one person’s strength can be a source of frustration to another. To cite an example, a team member who is methodical and precise can become frustrated by a team member who is keen to make decisions quickly. 

Tensions and niggles between team members can, if left unchecked, escalate quickly, having a huge and indirect impact on results. Niggles arise where there is a lack of understanding about the importance of diversity within a team. Individuals who understand themselves well are one step closer to understanding the impact they have on others - and two steps away from understanding the ‘otherness of others’!  One more step and they can adapt to the different style of others, respecting their preferences for decision-making, social interaction and ways of interpreting information.

You may be familiar with the phrase ‘nobody’s perfect, but a team can be!’  A highly performing team will have a blend of talent and there will be a palpable respect for the part that each team member plays. This blend of talent and palpable respect does not happen by accident. It takes understanding, nurturing and monitoring – just like your machinery, cars, computers and phone.

Once your team is working well together, you can then focus on becoming a high-performing team. We are now talking peak performance; moving from good to great – that extra and often elusive 15%.

Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian psychologist, coined the phrase ‘flow’ which is a state known to many as ‘being in the zone.’  When sports teams are in flow, they are untouchable, fluid and working as a unit. The ingredients necessary to achieve flow are high levels of skill combined with a high degree of challenge.

So, if you want your teams to be performing at their best, you need to provide them with not just the necessary skills but also high levels of challenge - and this is where the difficulty arises.

Some people thrive on pressure. For others that same level is too high and causes stress. The only way to know what is right for the individual and right for the team is to understand each person better and the part they play toward achieving the company goals.

I work with teams using psychometric profiles as a critical tool to gaining greater understanding and awareness of each other’s strengths and how to work together, both within the team and also with other departments inside or outside the company. The results last long after the workshops - and are evident in the bottom line.

So however much time and thought and energy you pour into your business planning and strategy and attracting customers, always remember - it's all delivered by your team. Are your people all pulling together in the right direction? Or are there niggles in the team or across different teams? What are you doing to oil the wheels of productivity?

Every member of your skilled labour force is unique. Their uniqueness can be the spark that ignites the whole business. Or it could be snuffer that extinguishes the fire.

Get the team right and performing to its max and you are a long way to success..

Liz is the founder and director of Growth Plans Ltd www.growth-plans.co.uk.  As a Chartered Accountant and Qualified Business Coach and Licensed Practitioner of Insights Discovery, she works with Directors to help them grow their potential and that of their businesses, through coaching, Leadership Boards, psychometric profiling, strategy reviews and workshops.


Upcoming events...

Leamington Speed Networking (Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce): Thursday 18 May, 8-10am, Audley Binswood Management LTD, Binswood Hall, Binswood Avenuem Leamington Spa, CV32 5SE. www.cwgrowthhub.co.uk/event/leamington-speed-networking
Building a Local Community for Profit, by Rugby Drive: Thursday 25 May, 8.30-11.30am, The Arnold House at Rugby, Elsee Road, CV21 3BA. www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/building-a-local-community-for-profit-tickets-33499692482
#FSBConnect #FSB Rugby Networking Breakfast: Friday 26 May, 7-9am, The Morgan Centre, Rugby College, Technology Drive, CV21 1RW.  www.fsb.org.uk/regions/warwickshire-coventry/events
CWLEP Marketing Top Tips Event: Friday 26 May, 8-10am, Study Inn Group, 175 Corporation Street, Coventry, CV! 1GU. www.cwgrowthhub.co.uk/event/marketing-top-tips-your-business
#FSBConnect #FSB Coventry Networking Breakfast: Wednesday 7 June, 7-8.45am, Ramada Hotel & Suites, Coventry Butts, Coventry, CV1 3GG. www.fsb.org.uk/regions/warwickshire-coventry/events
#FSBConnect #FSB Stratford First Wednesday: Wednesday 7 June, 6-7pm, Upstairs Bar area of El Greco, 27 Rother Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6NE. www.fsb.org.uk/regions/warwickshire-coventry/events
Tech Central event: Thursday 22 June, 6.30pm, The Star & Garter, 4-6 Warwick Street, Leamington Spa, CV32 5LL. www.warwickshire.gov.uk/invest-techcentral
#FSBConnect #FSB Rugby Networking Breakfast: Friday 23 June, 7-9am, The Morgan Centre, Rugby College, Technology Drive, CV21 1RW.  www.fsb.org.uk/regions/warwickshire-coventry/events
FSB Woman Who...Network: Friday 30 June, 9-11.30am, Twycross Zoo, Burton Road, Atherstone, CV9 3PX. Meet the Woman Who...Winners 2017 and hear from local inspirational women in business. www.fsb.org.uk/regions/warwickshire-coventry/events
#FSBConnect #FSB Coventry Networking Breakfast: Wednesday 5 July, 7-8.45am, Ramada Hotel & Suites, Coventry Butts, Coventry, CV1 3GG. www.fsb.org.uk/regions/warwickshire-coventry/events
#FSBConnect #FSB Stratford First Wednesday: Wednesday 5 July, 6-7pm, Upstairs Bar area of El Greco, 27 Rother Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6NE. www.fsb.org.uk/regions/warwickshire-coventry/events
FSB Expert in Business Awards 2017: Friday 14 July, 2017, 12noon, University of Warwick. Awards open to businesses of all stages, from start-ups to established firms, in Coventry, Warwickshire & Solihull. Entering couldn't be easier - download a simple application form.

People Profile

Gillian is a powerhouse behind the scenes

Warwickshire County Council has recently launched a new project to help people into work - and in Gillian Dale they have the perfect person behind the scenes.

Gillian, based in the council's Economy & Skills Group at Barrack Street, recently joined the council as a contracts and projects officer with responsibility for the Active Inclusion Project which has two strands: Helping people with mental health issues into employment and trying to put young offenders back on to a constructive life-path.

In both, the hands-on work is delivered by specialists in their field: staff from Rethink Mental Illness (a support service for people affected by mental illness) and Youth Justice (working with young people, parents and families to prevent and reduce crime and anti-social behaviour) respectively.

They do the 'front-line' stuff. But also crucial to the success and efficiency of the schemes is that, behind the scenes, all the relevant financial and legal matters are addressed.

And that is very much Gillian's specialist area. She is passionate about details - as befits her motto: "Happiness is a well-maintained spreadsheet."

"Number-crunching is what I do," she said. "It's where my experience lies and I enjoy the processes and pressures of making sure that everything is accurate and compliant. It's really important that all is done correctly.

"The project that I am involved with at the council will do excellent, life-changing work towards getting people into employment or education/training. And while we have great people who are hands on, so to speak, everything needs to fit together logistically. That's where I come in."

Gillian has arrived at Warwickshire County Council with heaps of relevant experience. Originally from Scotland, she graduated in physics from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, but moved down to Warwickshire 20 years ago when her husband began working at Jaguar Land Rover.

She worked briefly as a secondary school teacher in Coventry, then as a data analyst for eight years at Millward Brown. The last seven years she has spent as a contracts officer at Advance, a Solihull-based organisation which had helped hundreds of people with disabilities, into work. That was work which, Gillian thoroughly enjoyed, and had no intention of leaving until fate took a hand.

"I loved it at Advance and was not looking to leave," she said. "But one day I was browsing some job-sites for a friend and came across this one at the council. I thought, hold on, 'that's me!' It's in exactly the field I have been working in for years but is a lot closer to home.

"The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. So I was absolutely thrilled to get the job - and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I have joined a really good, dedicated team and have a couple of important project strands to get my teeth into."

Both those strands to the project, as to be expected from the importance of the work they do, come with a considerable amount of paperwork. So Gillian, is spending a lot of time with Coventry-based Rethink  and the Warwickshire County Council-run Youth Justice,  based at the court building in Leamington Spa, to get to know people and systems.

"There are a lot of regulations and compliances to meet and some people think it is a massive challenge, but really it's not," she said. "It's just a question of knowing what you are doing and being thorough and well-organised."

You need, above all, somebody who knows exactly what they are doing. And in Gillian, Warwickshire County Council have exactly that.

Warwickshire Outlook

Economic recovery shaped by household spending habits

Consumer spending has played a key part in the economic recovery and plays a majority role in total economic activity. Household spending actually accounts for approximately 60% of the UK economy. As such, changes in consumer confidence and spending power can have a significant effect on the growth of the economy. And how and where households choose to spend their money can strongly shape business activity and focus.

The 'experience economy'

A recent report analysing spending behaviour by Barclaycard (who process about half of all UK credit and debit card transactions) has highlighted the increase of the “experience economy” and the associated decline in purchasing material goods. 

This is part of a trend that Barclaycard say they have been seeing over the last 12-18 months, but latest figures show a 20% increase in spending in pubs compared with the same month last year. Spending in restaurants went up 16% while theatres and cinemas enjoyed a 13% rise. Meanwhile, department stores suffered a 1% drop, vehicle sales were down 11% and spending on household appliances fell by 2.5%

Put simply, households are spending more on doing things (going out to pubs and restaurants, trips to the cinema and theatre, holidays and activities), rather than simply buying things. Indeed, last year, the head of IKEA, Steve Howard, was quoted as saying that he believed the economy had reached “peak stuff” – households have as much as they want and need and are now looking at using their incomes in different ways. 

These changes lead to new business opportunities, are driving strong growth in the hotels and restaurants sector, and point to new/different uses of town centres in the future.

Bank of England review of car-lease deals

One area of “stuff,” however, that has been a key factor of economic growth nationally, and very important locally, has been the increase in new vehicle purchases. Manufacturing of cars has seen strong and steady increases over the past five years and output for the year to March 2017 was over 7% up from the previous year.

While new car registrations in the UK dropped this April, following a run of good growth in previous years, increasing attention is now paid to how households are funding this strong demand in new vehicles - and the Bank of England has recently launched an inquiry into car-leasing plans.

Over 80% of all new vehicle purchases are now undertaken through lease deals known as personal contract plans (PCPs), a significant change to how this market operated only five years ago. The Bank of England is concerned about the increased level of credit (and therefore indebtedness) that consumers are now experiencing and the robustness of credit checks and risk analysis being undertaken in the approval of these PCPs. 

There are echoes, albeit on a much lower level, of the sub-prime housing crisis, whereby individuals where accessing levels of credit that they could not really afford - and a downturn in prices, or a change in economic circumstances, caused a systemic problems. 

While PCP plans currently work well for both the consumer and car dealers/manufacturers, they are principally based on the rising values of used-car prices to work effectively. Should the second-hand car market take a dip (say, for instance, if used diesel cars become less popular due to emissions controls) or interest rates rise significantly, then this could destabilise this system and cause difficulties both for individuals and the finance market sitting behind these deals.

Following the review, the Bank of England may be minded to increase controls on lease deals, which could reduce demand for new vehicles in medium-term.  Given the importance of the motor industry to the local economy, this is an issue that we will need to keep track of.

Real wages set to fall

Given the importance of household spending to the economy, “real wages” (i.e. income adjusted for inflation) are a key indicator on economic performance. 

When real wages are rising (as they have been over the past couple of years), one can expect to see spending and therefore economic activity increase. However, when real wages fall, pressure is placed on household expenditure and a reduction in activity can be expected. 

We have seen over recent months inflation starting to increase, rising from 1.8% in January, to 2.3% in February and (just released), 2.7% in March. The Bank of England are currently forecasting that inflation will peak at a little under 3% by the end of 2017, but other forecasters (such as the National Institute of Economic & Social Research) are pencilling in a higher peak of around 3.5% by the end of the year. 

At the same time, wages are only likely to see weak growth. A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that pay expectations are at the lowest levels for over three years, with firms are only planning on giving workers on average a rise of just over 1%. Real wages are therefore set to fall over the coming year, so close attention will need to be paid as to the impacts that this will have on household spend and the wider economy.

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