Wednesday 12th August 2020
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 03/12/2019

Manufacturers planning to invest and recruit more in the region

The outlook for investment and employment across East of England manufacturers is significantly brighter than the national picture helped by a “reasonably healthy” pattern of output and orders in the region, according to a key survey. Although the MakeUK/BDO fourth quarter manufacturing outlook survey shows output has dipped at firms in the region since the first half in line with national trends, it paints a more promising picture for intentions on investment (+14%) and employment (+9%). The outlook for output (+9%) and total orders (+18%) in the region are also ahead of the national picture. However the survey says manufacturers are continuing to see mixed trading conditions as they enter the New Year as the impact of political uncertainty drags on. Export orders also fell in the East of England, despite a cheaper pound, as the global slowdown takes its toll. Keith Ferguson, head of manufacturing at BDO in the East of England, said: “Investment levels are in positive territory in the East of England despite a series of declines UK-wide since the start of the year. While this is good news, and possibly a sign that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is less of a short-term worry, manufacturers are still facing an uphill battle.”

Charlotte Horobin, region director at Make UK in the East of England, said: “Christmas, and the end of the year, are a time when people reflect on the past and try to begin afresh. Manufacturers will hope that the results from this quarters’ survey are a sign that the economy is beginning to grow afresh once more.” Make UK is forecasting gdp growth of 1.3% in 2019 and 1.4% in 2020.

Suffolk’s top 100 firms pay the price for retaining talent

A 14 per cent rise in average wages against a background of rising skills shortages has taken a toll on profits across Suffolk’s largest 100 companies although turnover is up and many firms are planning significant capital investments. The Suffolk Limited study by Grant Thornton and Birketts showed operating profit had fallen by 2.5 per cent across the top 100 private firms in the county although turnover rose by 7.2 per cent to £5.6 billion. Meanwhile, the numbers employed by the top 100 rose by 8 per cent to 35,964 and the average wage has increased from £24,989 to £28,604. A survey at an event to launch the study highlighted skills shortages as a barrier to improving productivity but 53 per cent of those attending planned to make significant capital investment over the next year. Food and agriculture firms in the top 100 had a tough year with operating profit down 41 per cent and employee numbers down by 617. Transport and motor retail remains the largest sector with a turnover of £1.7bn.  Rob Thomson, director and East Anglia tax lead at Grant Thornton, said: “Many Suffolk businesses have quite rightly focused on retaining their talent as well as increasing their workforce which, as we’ve seen, has helped to drive topline growth forward. However, an increased Suffolk Limited headcount and rise in average wages…has had an impact on profitability. Overall, businesses in Suffolk are performing well in an uncertain market and are showing great skill, resource and commitment to deliver dynamic growth….”

Jonathan Agar, CEO at Birketts said: “This year’s Suffolk Limited has seen a trend in increased gearing across most of the sectors, indicating that the Top 100 are taking advantage of low interest rates. This could signify renewed growth ahead as businesses are using their borrowing power to re-invest in fixed assets.”

Photo (l-r): At the lauch of Suffolk Ltd – Gary Harvey, MEL Aviation; Mark Tyldesley, Muntons plc; Elizabeth Pearce, Suffolk IoD; Justin Adams, Global Chair Components; John Williams, Maritime Group; Alexandra Nelson, Birketts; Tim Taylor, Grant Thornton; Jonathan Agar, Birketts and Rob Thomson, Grant Thornton. 

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Law firms combine with ambitions in French legal services market

East Anglian law firm Ashtons Legal is joining forces with Leeds-based Heslop & Platt in a move designed to give it a leading position in the UK’s French legal services market. Both firms are long-standing players in the field with strong contacts in the sector across France. Together the firms are aiming to be the leading UK provider for those buying or selling homes in France. Matthew Cameron, who leads the team at Ashtons Legal, said: “The main area in which we are seeing an increase in activity at present is those who already own homes in France and wish to make French Wills to sit alongside their English ones. We also deal with many succession issues on behalf of individuals who are inheriting property from parents who retired to France some years ago.”

Barbara Heslop of Heslop & Platt added: “Whilst our profile and client base is nationwide, our presence in the north of the UK is stronger than that of Ashtons. The full-service Ashtons’ infrastructure will give us a strength and depth that we could not realistically achieve alone…”

Photo: Barbara Heslop (third right in red) with Matthew Cameron (second right) and others from Heslop & Platt

See Profile Ashtons Legal

Norfolk-based instrumentation business sold to AIM-quoted company

An innovative Norfolk-based engineering business which produces market-leading pressure and flow instrumentation for sectors such as aerospace, automotive and energy generation has been sold to an AIM-quoted company. Chell Instruments has been acquired by SDI Group plc, which focuses on scientific and technology products for use in digital imaging and sensing and control applications. The deal aims to drive further growth at Chell, accelerate the roll-out of new products and enhance SDI’s brand portfolio. Based in North Walsham, Chell has more than 40 years’ experience producing instruments for the measurement and control of gas pressures and flows in a wide variety of applications. The company has long-term, strategic alliances with brands like Airbus, BAE Systems, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Ferrari, and Rolls Royce and a dominant position in its niche markets. The company was founded by Ron and Judith Mitchell in 1976 and employs 34. Majority shareholder Ron Mitchell is fully exiting the business but Nick Broadley, managing director since 2001, will continue to lead the management team for the foreseeable future. Nick Broadley said: “This is an exciting time for Chell Instruments. SDI as an owner has a good understanding of the way Chell exploits its niche markets and how to grow them further. We look forward to working with SDI and taking Chell forward.”

PEM Corporate Finance acted as lead advisers to Chell on the sale of the business. Philip Olagunju, director at PEM Corporate Finance said: “PEMCF carried out an extensive marketing exercise on this deal, speaking to financial and trade buyers from around the world. From the very start we found SDI to be efficient, transparent, realistic and pragmatic, and I’m confident that Chell will go from strength to strength as part of the SDI family.”

Lake Falconer, partner at PEM Corporate Finance, added: “We met Ron and Nick several years ago and have met with them at regular intervals to help shape their exit strategy. It’s a great example of how speaking early to corporate finance advisers can help business owners to formulate their exit strategy. Not only that but regular contact allows the plans to evolve and flex with the business and the market. It’s good to see it paying off with a deal that works for Ron and Nick and sees Chell transitioning to a new owner that will be good for its future growth.”

See Profile PEM Corporate Finance

Agent ends the year with a flourish of deals

Penn Commercial is ending the year with a flourish of six deals in Suffolk across the offices, industrial, investment and land sectors. A prime town centre investment at Lloyds Avenue comprising five shops and offices was sold to a private investor in just three weeks, for just over £1 million, reflecting an appetite for income-related products. Two freehold office deals were completed: at 1 Sorrell Horse Mews, which was sold to a local yoga centre, and another at 81 Grimwade Street, which was sold to Philip and Jane Langley for a psycotherapy/counselling centre, totalling  around  £900,000. Meanwhile, a freehold town centre office building with a redevelopment opportunity of around 9,000 sq ft, (Century House, photo right) was sold in thirteen working days. Elsewhere, a new out of town two-storey office at Hill View Business Park, Claydon has been let to Sentry for a new office. A serviced  industrial plot at New Lion Barn, Needham Market of just over an acre has been sold for £500,000 to a large Turkish fruit juice importer, for a new facility associated with the Port of Felixstowe.

See Profile Penn Commercial

Industrial sector shines in region’s property market

Industrial and investment moves dominated the commercial property market in the Eastern region in 2019, with other sectors holding their own, according to agent Barker Storey Matthews. The industrial/logistics sector is being fuelled by good occupier demand and investor appetite, particularly for freehold opportunities. The number of deals concluded with occupiers by the agency is similar to last year but Brexit has put the brakes on some occupiers’ moves. The firm says the office market has turned in a ‘patchy’ performance, partly due to shifting patterns of work and a lack of quality office stock. In Peterborough, the recent collapse of Thomas Cook will see the office market influenced by 105,000 sq ft of hq office building when it comes to the market shortly. In Cambridge, the third quarter has seen significant R&D lettings at the Cambridge Science Park and new leases have been signed by key players at Granta Park. There has also been notable take-up at Babraham Research Park and Chesterford Research Park. Meanwhile, improvements to the A14 mean the Cambridge to Huntingdon corridor has the potential to attract occupiers - such as R&D or high profile office operators - who, historically, may have looked to Cambridge and its business parks, more than to Huntingdon. Stephen Hawkins, partner at Eddisons – which now owns BSM -  said: “At this time last year, we said that 2019 was going to be a bit of rollercoaster - and, on a macro-level, we weren’t wrong. However, we also affirmed our view that the fundamentals for a sound commercial property market remained and this has been the case in the Eastern region. This view endures as we face 2020, in spite of the same economic and geopolitical forces set to still be in play in the coming year as much as they have been in the past twelve months.”

Airline plans to close Norwich Airport base and service to Manchester

Scottish airline Loganair is planning to close its operating base at Norwich Airport with some redundancies amongst its 44 staff and end its service between Norwich and Manchester from early January. Passenger numbers had failed to improve following the introduction of new Embraer jets on the route earlier this year. A new service planned between Norwich and Newquay in Cornwall will not go ahead but the airline will continue to operate from Norwich to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Jersey, using aircraft and crews from its Scottish bases from February. Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles said: "It is beyond disappointing that we have arrived at this decision, but the financial implications left us with little choice.”

Offshore wind projects to combine for faster delivery

ScottishPower Renewables is combining its three projects in the region (East Anglia ONE North, TWO and THREE) into a single delivery programme with a capacity of 3,100 MW to speed up the developments. The three projects in The East Anglia Hub will be procured together with a continuous installation programme. Ross Ovens, East Anglia Hub project director at ScottishPower Renewables, said: “Our East Anglia ONE project is already delivering significant benefits to East Anglia and across the UK. The East Anglia Hub will build on this, bringing further jobs, training and investment to the region.” The initial 1,400 MW (East Anglia Three) already has planning consent. Planning applications for the further 1,700 MW (split between East Anglia One North, and East Anglia Two) have been submitted.

Software group secures £6.5 million investment

Cambridge-based software group Iotic has secured a £6.5 million investment to speed up growth and meet demand for its pioneering digital twin technology. The investment from European VCs; IQ Capital, Talis Capital and Breed Reply, will allow Iotic to capitalise on its patented technology and unique market position. Iotic enables businesses and their assets, objects, companies and people to interact automatically and securely and its customers include Rolls-Royce Power Systems and Bam Nuttall. Robin Brattel, CEO of Iotic, said: “This investment is a further major endorsement of our operating rnvironment and tools and the business strategy behind them.” Founded in 2014 in Cambridge, the company has a north American operations hub in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Separately, venture capital group Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC) says it has attracted £1 billion of investment into Cambridge companies. Andrew Williamson, managing partner of CIC, said: “The high quality of opportunities afforded to CIC as a result of our preferential access to IP from the University of Cambridge and our superior network through the Cambridge ecosystem ensures we are the gateway for accessing world-leading innovation.” Recent highlights in the half to end-September include investing £22.8 million into three new and 11 existing portfolio companies, bringing the total invested to £150.0 million in 29 companies.The group added Riverlane, Sense Biodetection and PredictImmune to its portfolio.

Lightering company opens Dubai office to support further growth

Following a strong start in the Middle East last year, SafeSTS, an international lightering company owned by Norfolk-based Future Marine Services, has opened an office in Dubai's Jumeirah Lake Towers complex (right) and is looking at further expansion in the region. SafeSTS Middle East FZE is now providing support for its ship-to-ship transfer operations in the ports of Dubai, Khor Fakkan and Fujairah. Captain Jagdeep Singh Sodhi, SafeSTS regional director in the Middle East, said: "Competitive port fees and STS costs continue to stimulate a growing  demand for the ship-to-ship transfer of the full range of petroleum products in the region."

On a recent trip to the Middle East, Yvonne Mason, CEO of Diss-based Future Marine Services, said: "Over recent months, we have identified some exciting new business opportunities across the Middle East, and our office in Dubai will provide an important base as Captain Jagdeep further expands the team to support a growing client base."

Fast growing private firms ranked

Three East of England-based companies feature in the latest Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100 league which table ranks Britain’s private companies with the fastest-growing sales. They are Cambridge-based online marketplace specialist Velocity Commerce; veterinary radiology and telemedicine company VetCT, also based in Cambridge and Suffolk-based Superyacht Tenders & Toys. Together their sales have grown by an average of 60 per cent a year over three years to a total of £29.6m and they employ 137 people. Last year, four firms from the region featured in the table.

Cambs wholesaler secures facilities to buy commercial premises

Cambs-based N & M Wholesale has secured banking facilities from Barclays to buy its existing commercial premises. The company based at PVD Innovation Centre Cottenham, provides wine, beer, spirits and other alcoholic beverages to off-licences, restaurants and pubs in the Cambs  area. The company was started in 2018 by Prashanth Nellutla and has significantly grown its customer base and is now looking to expand its services to local hotels. Director Prashanth Nellutla said: “It’s hard when you first decide to start a new business. Not only do you need to find suitable premises, but you also need to build up a good track record of showing that you can make it work. I approached several banks, but in the end Nihal at Barclays helped me through the process of applying for the commercial mortgage loan for the warehouse. Owning the business premises gives us the stability to look at new opportunities that will help the business to grow in the future and provide more choice for our customers.”

Nihal Daglioglu, relationship director, Barclays Business Banking, Cambridgeshire, said: “When a business owns its premises it provides the much-needed security that allows them to look to the future, seize opportunities and continue to grow.”

See Profile Barclays

Agency wins award for enterprise support

Colchester Business Enterprise Agency (Colbea) was named enterprise support organisation of the year at the 2019 National Enterprise Network Awards. Colbea secured the award for its strategic and astute practices including match-funding, sponsorship, partnerships and engagement with local businesses. Colbea chief executive Ashleigh Seymour-Rutherford said: “2019 has been a year in which Colbea has really started to deliver on our five-year strategy of developing a self-sustainable commercial model, providing a strong foundation for the long-term delivery of our core-funded programme. By match-funding any income with sponsorship from local businesses, Colbea has been able to invest in our fully-funded business advice service, and low cost training courses.” Host Nick Pandolfi named the winners at the ceremony, held at one Churchill place Canary Wharf courtesy of headline sponsor Barclays.

Photo(l-r): Mandeep Singh Gabhari, Ashleigh Seymour-Rutherford, James Cracknell, Keith Powell, Katie Skingle, Craig Baston

Space for swifts in new building

The bursar of Homerton College, Cambridge has taken part in a topping out event with a difference on the construction of a new accommodation and auditorium wing. The event is normally marked by fixing a roof panel or beam but Deborah Griffin (right) helped to place one of four Swift Bricks in the gable ends of the building. The main contractor on the project, Barnes Construction has sponsored the Manthorpe Swift Bricks, which have been developed to allow swifts to nest in the construction of modern buildings. Deborah Griffin said: “Bird species such as swifts have nested in the eaves of our buildings for thousands of years, but improvements in construction have put their survival at risk. Swifts come to the UK for three months during the summer to raise their young and they prefer nesting in small groups, but the population has been dwindling recently as suitable nest sites have become scarcer.” Designed by Ingleton Wood Martindales, the new £3.8 million four-storey building will provide an auditorium and two music rooms on the ground floor, and 18 en-suite guest bedrooms over the remaining three floors.

See Profile Ingleton Wood

Law firm host advice clinics with Citizens Advice Bureau

Law firm Rogers & Norton is collaborating with the Citizens Advice Bureau in Attleborough by hosting advice clinics at its office in the Norfolk town on the second Thursday of each month, starting on 12th December. The advice sessions will initially relate to family and matrimonial matters and will be hosted by solicitor Averil Ballam, who is based at the firm’s Attleborough office. She specialises in all aspects of family law, including divorce; financial matters; cohabitee disputes and private law children matters. The clinic will be from 2-4 pm with four 30 minute slots. Contact the CAB in Attleborough on 01953 687143 or go its office in Queens Square to arrange an appointment.

See Profile Rogers and Norton

Presentation for fundraising for mental health charity

Meet Cambridge, the official conference and events bureau for Cambridge, has marked two years of fundraising for a regional mental health charity with an official cheque presentation ceremony. In January 2018, Meet Cambridge chose Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and South Lincolnshire Mind (CPSL Mind) as its dedicated charity and has since held a series of events and activities to raise a total of £2,750 to support those with mental health issues. Meet Cambridge also chose to donate all the proceeds from its 20th birthday celebrations to the charity, including a special event attended by more than 90 people and headlined by Bryony Gordon. Judith Sloane, deputy manager at Meet Cambridge said: “We have enjoyed supporting CPSL Mind with a range of fundraising events and activities over the last two years. Mental health is now higher on the agenda but work still needs to be done to raise awareness and the demand for the charity’s services continues to grow.”

Photo: The Meet Cambridge team (l-r): Laura Rayyan, Judith Sloane, Zoe Doherty (CPSL Mind), Kelly Vickers, Amy Beschizza and Natalie Silgram.