Monday 28th September 2020
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 12/05/2020

Business activity plummets but hopes surface for recovery

Private sector business activity in the East plunged in April according to a key survey of purchasing managers although sentiment in the region actually improved as hopes for a recovery rose when the virus crisis measures are relaxed. The East of England was one of five UK regions where optimism on future output improved during April, alongside Wales, the West Midlands, the South West and the South East. But as the demand for goods and services in the region collapsed at the start of the second quarter, the NatWest East of England business activity index fell at the fastest rate since data collection started over 23 years ago, down by over 20 points in April, from 40.7 to 16.2. As more stringent measures hit businesses operations, the downturn in sales led to a jump in spare capacity prompting heavy job cuts. The fall in employment in April in the region was the steepest on record, beyond the reductions during the financial crisis in February 2009. Meanwhile firm's input costs fell for the first time for four-and-a-half years during April, thanks to lower wage bills and fuel costs. Despite the improvement in sentiment, the survey’s future business activity index remained below the historical average, as pessimistic firms are braced for a prolonged impact of the pandemic on activity. John Maude, NatWest Midlands & East regional board, said: “Overall, while the decline was not as severe as that recorded at the national level, the latest survey data point to a substantial downturn in the East of England’s private sector.”

Software deal completes despite lockdown

In a sign that deals are still being completed during the lockdown, Ortoo Technologies, a software developer with a base in Norfolk, has been sold to The Key Support Services, based in London. MHA Larking Gowen acted for the shareholders of Ortoo Technologies, which focuses on education having created a software for the sector, GovernorHub. The Key is a professional support group to the education sector providing up to date information to key stakeholders in schools. Chris Kenyon, chief executive officer of The Key, said: “The GovernorHub team has built the best platform available for governors to collaborate and support schools. After several months of discussions, we are thrilled to welcome Neil, James and team to the Key.”

MHA Larking Gowen, has been working with Ortoo Technologies as its accountants since the business was launched in 2012. Jack Minns, corporate finance director at MHA Larking Gowen, said: “It was really satisfying to have helped a long-standing client of the firm achieve their goals and still complete to timescales despite the uncertainty brought by the COVID19 lockdown. I am sure that Ortoo will continue to grow and progress as part of The Key.”

Photo: Lockdown meant celebrations took place via video.

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Critical ventilator production goes ahead thanks to rapid responses

Suffolk-based medical device manufacture Cogent Technology has been contracted to produce over 13,500 ventilator units in a 12 week window after being approached by the government in mid-March to support the UK Ventilator Challenge. To support production on a tight schedule, Woodbridge-based Cogent acquired a lease on 79,000 sq ft of manufacturing space at Landguard Point Enterprise Centre (right) in Felixstowe. Penn Commercial, Saint Vincent Developments and Ellisons Solicitors have been thanked for their responsiveness on the project – with the keys handed over within a week to make the facility ready with a dedicated production line within five weeks. Cogent Technology managing director Nigel Slator said “I am immensely proud of the dedication that has been shown in rising to this challenge.  Be under no illusion, developing a new product to manufacture normally takes 2-3 years minimum.  The unified team work within Cogent Technology has worked to bring the first production units off the line in weeks.“ The Eva Ventilator was designed and developed by designers at Team Consulting, working with specialists at Cogent Technology.

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Mayor confident Cambs & Peterborough region is 'recovery-ready'

The Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and the combined authority’s business board have set up a taskforce to co-ordinate the reopening of shops and areas such as pedestrian movement, parking, street trading, sanitizing, and anti-social behaviour. Help for companies with clarity on measures to re-open, guidance on safe number of ‘distanced customers’, cleaning and signposting will also be available. James Palmer, one of England’s eight ‘metro mayors’, has also been working with the combined authority’s business board, local councils, and civil contingency and resilience groups, to plan recovery during the lockdown. He said: “We are confident that our region is recovery-ready and once lockdown is lifted, we’ll come out match-fit and eager for action. But health and safety remain top priority – we must stay virus-vigilant as we resume business as usual, and at last feel free to get out more.  Our challenge to business is to take the flexible approach we have all been applying to get through this, and we will come out of this all the sooner.”

Norwich firm secures Belgian contract as growth continues

Norwich food processing equipment manufacturer Fabcon Food Systems has won a six figure contract to supply and install bespoke machinery for a seasoning and distribution line for Belgian snack producer Nutradia at the firm’s plant in Andenne. The new line will support Nutradia’s drive to produce more healthy, non-fried snacks. Trevor Howard (right), managing director of Fabcon Food Systems, said: “Nutradia is a hugely prestigious health snack maker who want to improve the performance, flexibility and efficiency of its seasoning and packing operation.  Overall, it is another great milestone for us to work closely with such a respected manufacturer. It also shows that British-built machinery continues to be in high demand.” Founded in 2015, the contract is Fabcon’s first distribution system project in Belgium, one of more than 20 countries where the growing firm operates.

Investment platform launched at university

The University of Essex is launching an investment platform, Angels@Essex platform to help give start-ups access to angel investment opportunities and access to a network of investors. Companies already on the platform, created with sector specialist Delio, include artificial intelligence-powered song search platform MyPart; secure data storage innovator Anzen Technology; immersive B2B learning platform BODYSWAPS®; and mobile ordering software developer Wi-Q. The Angels@Essex team is particularly interested in projects from the creative digital sector or virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Potential investors can contact the team to join the network of investors on its platform. Business support manager John Stenhouse, who is leading the project, said: “At this challenging time it is still important to look to the future, to identify and back the potential technologies, products and services which will transform our lives, disrupt markets and unlock new business opportunities." The university was awarded University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) status by Research England and Angels@Essex is one of the key UEZ initiatives.

Specialist lawyer appointed to agriculture and estates team

Law firm Birketts has appointed Gerry Field as a legal director in its agriculture and estates team. He is regularly cited by the Legal 500 as one of the region's top agricultural specialists and is a long-time supporter of The Suffolk Show. As a part of Birketts’ agriculture and estates team he will concentrate on providing support to new clients as well as those farming, landowning and business patrons who have followed him throughout his forty year career. Gerry Field said: “I am delighted to join a leading local firm like Birketts which has such deep roots in the local farming community. It is an honour to work alongside a team offering such a broad range of expertise and I am proud to assist in boosting the scope of its experience even further.”

James Dinwiddy, partner, said: “His impressive career supporting a broad range of clients including farmers, landowners and agri-business specialists stands him in good stead to meet the demands of our ever-growing client base.”

Separately, Birketts has appointed Tobias Gleed-Owen as an associate in its private client advisory team based at its Cambridge office. He has wide experience in a wide variety of private client-related issues, including administering cross-border estates, tax & estate planning for international individuals and dealing with the complexities of succession issues for family businesses.

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Norwich lawyer helps break ice for winter sports resort

Town planning lawyer Chris Burgess (right), an associate at Norwich-based Hansells Solicitors, helped plans for the £500m SnOasis indoor winter sports resort near Ipswich, take a big step closer to reality. Acting for Mid-Suffolk District Council, he took the lead in drafting and settling the final planning legal agreements. The 350-acre SnOasis centre now has approval to be built in a former quarry at Great Blakenham, near Ipswich. The project is expected to create 3,500 construction jobs and full time work for 1 800. Steven Stroud, strategic projects manager for Mid Suffolk Council and lead LPA officer for SnOasis, said: “Chris really hit the ground running with the work on the legal agreement and was a huge help to us in securing the obligations that the council needed to keep the development acceptable.” SnOasis, with a long and complex planning history, was first granted outline approval in 2008. The plans involve a professional level ski slope, ice rink and bobsleigh run and an entertainment centre – with scope for further facilities such as retail units, a hotel, hostel and chalets.

PR and digital marketing agency listed in top 40 outside London

Ipswich-based PR and digital marketing agency Genesis has been accredited as one of the UK’s ‘Top 40 PR agencies outside London’ by the publication PR Week. With an 18-strong team, Genesis is the only PR agency in the East of England to be recognised and is also ranked as a UK Top 50 business-to-business and Top 20 public sector agency. The lists are based on 2019 fee earnings. Penny Arbuthnot, director at Genesis, said: “Being recognised as a PR Week Top 40 agency Outside London is a tremendous boost for our team and I am immensely proud of everything we have achieved over the past 12 months. “Despite a challenging business environment with uncertainties caused by Brexit and now Covid-19, we continue to be agile and responsive, helping clients by delivering the right communications formula to ensure their messages resonate with their audiences.” Genesis is also one of fewer than 100 agencies nationally to be accredited to the Communications Management Standard by the Public Relations Consultants Association and has recently become an accredited member of the UK Lobbying Register which recognises agencies with significant experience in public affairs and lobbying.

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Vessel operator expands fleet to meet growing demand from offshore wind farms

North Norfolk-based Tidal Transit has increased its fleet of crew transfer vessels from four to six to meet an increased demand from new and established offshore wind farm developers in UK and European waters. The new 19m metre Southboats come to Tidal Transit, based at Great Walsingham, from the used market, having been owned by international shipping company Vroon and refurbished at Grimsby Shipyard Services. Changes have been made to increase speed, fuel efficiency and transfer performance and separators introduced for social distancing. "We are very proud of the impressive utilisation and reliability records of our current Mercurio-built CTVs," said Tidal Transit's commercial director Leo Hambro. "We saw the MAN powered Southboats as particularly attractive additions to the fleet, due to shared common parts, and their design, which will allow us to diversify and serve projects requiring shallower drafts. We believe people will be very surprised to see what we will achieve with these proven Southboats hull forms with the modifications that we have already, and will continue, to make." The two new 19m vessels, ‘Ava Sofie' and ‘Honor Mhari'  are now available for charter.

Offshore firms pursue export market in Virginia

Norfolk & Suffolk’s offshore firms are hoping to export their supply chain know-how to the largest wind farm being planned in the US, off the coast of Virginia. An online event organised by the Norfolk & Suffolk Unlimited brand and the City of Virginia Beach saw 20 local businesses meet with operators and developers involved in Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind scheme, where construction and commissioning is set to start in 2024. OrbisEnergy, East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) and Opergy gave presentations.

Chris Starkie, chief executive of New Anglia LEP, said: “East Anglia is already building strategic links with key European and global offshore wind markets and local business have been involved in almost every wind farm project around the world. He added: “Our energy sector has been through tough times, but the east coast remains a global hub for skills and innovation. We remain in a great place to make the most of future opportunities and relationships like this are key to that.” The Virginia project will be the first offshore wind project in Federal waters and the first to be owned directly by a US utility company, delivering more than 2.6 GW of renewable energy by 2026.

Display at Port of Ipswich to mark VE Day

Key ABP operational staff at the Port of Ipswich used one tonne bags of Orwell Fertiliser - which is bagged at the port - to make their own tribute to VE Day last Friday. The photo shows colleagues outside of the port’s Coldock Terminal with the display. Andrew Harston, ABP Regional Director for Wales and Short Sea Ports, said: “I am so proud of our colleagues who have worked to keep our ports open throughout the Coronavirus crisis and who have done a fantastic job. It is great when we can come together like this to celebrate in our own way an important and memorable anniversary that is not going to be the nationwide celebration that the country had planned." ABP’s Ports of East Anglia, King’s Lynn, Lowestoft and Ipswich contribute £360 million to the UK economy every year and support 3,700 jobs in the region and 5,300 jobs nationally.