Monday 28th September 2020
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 19/05/2020

A quarter of Suffolk firms taking measures ‘to re-open immediately’

With some restrictions being lifted in England, 26 per cent of respondents to a weekly Suffolk Chamber survey on the impact of the virus said they are taking measures to reopen immediately. But while partial restrictions remain in place and non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality remain closed, the survey says cash flow concerns could ‘continue for the foreseeable future’. A large majority of businesses have reported difficulties accessing domestic customers and some 87 per cent of firms are concerned on cash flow, according to the survey. This is despite government support through the coronavirus job retention scheme - which most firms have made use of - as well as local authority grants and numerous loan schemes. The survey, taken in the final week of the total lockdown, showed a weekly high of 23 per cent of businesses have now accessed the bounce back loans. Suffolk Chamber chief executive John Dugmore said: “Having been in lockdown for just over two months, businesses are of course facing cash flow issues and struggling to reach customers. Businesses are doing their best to ease these problems by utilising government support. However, now is the time to rebuild consumer and business confidence by getting businesses trading.”

Insolvency team urges firms to 'consider options and not panic'

Firms being affected by the economic downturn are being urged not to panic, seek advice and consider the options. As well as dealing with a number of insolvency cases, MHA Larking Gowen’s insolvency and recovery team has seen an increase in enquires from company directors on the options available to them. Insolvency Service figures show that nationally, the number of company insolvencies in the first quarter was down by 8.5 per cent on the same period a year earlier, with fewer bankruptcies and there has been a significant reduction in formal insolvency appointments since the lock down started. Andrew Kelsall, insolvency and recovery partner at MHA Larking Gowen, said: “We’ve been dealing with number of insolvent liquidations but not the number you would perhaps expect during the current economic crisis. Clearly there will be some cases where there are pressing needs and good reasons to enter into an insolvency now and we’re working with directors on some of those cases. However, a big part of our support now is around advising company directors who are unsure about what they should be doing next. It is important not to panic and rush into an insolvency, reversing out of it may be impossible if you have a change of in the future”. His top three tips to consider before making any decisions are to reduce costs, review your business and consider a restructure.

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Port of Ipswich keeps Suffolk trading through lockdown

More than 70 ships have arrived at the Port of Ipswich since the lockdown began in March and the port has handled a total of 240,500 tonnes of cargo for Suffolk businesses. The port, owned by ABP, has received more than 32,000 tonnes of fertiliser for farmers in Suffolk and north Essex and has exported over 80,000 tonnes of barley, wheat, oats and beans to ports as diverse as Rotterdam, Leith in Scotland, Gran Canaria and Reykjavik in Iceland. Other shipments include cargoes of Suffolk-grown beans destined for Egypt. Meanwhile, the port has received nine shipments of animal feed imports for chicken and pig farms in Suffolk. Meanwhile key construction materials have continued to arrive at the port, many shipped or arranged prior to the lockdown. Some 21,000 tonnes of timber has been delivered to Ipswich from Scandinavia and the Baltic States in nine ships over the lockdown and 51,000 tonnes of aggregate, cement and bricks have arrived. Andrew Harston, ABP regional director for Wales & short sea ports, said:  “I really want to thank and pay tribute to all of our colleagues who are key workers who have been in the front line working on the quayside to keep vital cargoes coming in and out of the country.”

Firm processes over £500k in grants for job retention scheme

Advisers at Scrutton Bland have processed well over £500k in claims for business owners to help pay employees’ wages whilst they are furloughed since the government’s job retention scheme portal opened. The firm is also handling a further £100k which has been submitted. Luke Morris, who leads Scrutton Bland’s COVID-19 business support team, said: “This is an unprecedented situation for everyone. We are here to assist our clients to access government support in order to keep our region’s economy in the strongest possible place in order to recover. Many businesses would have had to close without these grants, so it is very important that they get financial assistance in place as quickly as possible.”

Sarah Healey Pearce, business advisory director, added: “If any business, whether they are a client or not, needs advice on grants, loans and other government support please give us a call. We can help you assess what help there may be for you and can help make sure that the information you submit is comprehensive and presented in the best possible way to help speed up the process.”

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New platform to help manufacturers in Norfolk and Suffolk share staff

An online platform to help engineering and manufacturing companies in Norfolk and Suffolk share employees by enabling them to move to another business during quieter periods is being set up thanks to a £180,000 grant. The New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering group has received the award from New Anglia LEP’s innovative projects fund. It will be used to launch Engineering Success, an initiative to map and accelerate the engineering and manufacturing cluster across Norfolk and Suffolk. It will also involve setting up a talent-sharing platform which will enable employees at companies where work patterns are seasonal to move to other firms in helping provide all-year-round employment for staff and broadening the talent pool. Jamie Thums (right), chair of NAAME, said: “Our vision for NAAME is to support ambitious engineering and manufacturing businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk to thrive by bringing them together, helping them share knowledge, tackle challenges, and address the opportunities of tomorrow. The idea for the talent-sharing platform was conceived by NAAME business partners, and we are delighted to secure this funding to make it a reality.”

Lockdown set to change financial behaviour

The lockdown is set to change individuals' financial behaviour, particularly among younger adults, according to a survey of over 2,000 people by Barclays. Some 83 per cent of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) said that the current situation has changed their behaviour towards finances, compared to a third of people aged over 60. Thirty seven per cent of millennials are committed to putting more money into a savings pot, 35 per cent to paying closer attention to their finances and 12 per cent plan to reduce the amount they spend on gym membership/exercise classes. Many also vowed to spend less on eating out and do more free/cheap activities with friends and family. Jo Harris, head of Barclays Money Mentors at Barclays, said: “These extraordinary times have shone a light on many aspects of our lives that we perhaps previously haven’t had the time or headspace to focus on. It’s fantastic to see that financial wellbeing is one of the key things millennials in particular are taking away from this unprecedented situation, with almost a quarter realising they can be more self-controlled with money than they previously thought.” To help anyone who has questions about budgeting, or is thinking about their goals after lockdown, Barclays Money Mentors are hosting an IGTV Q&A this Friday 22nd May at 5pm to tackle finance-related questions. Head to @BarclaysUK Instagram stories to ask questions throughout the week.

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Cambridge-based firm sees 'exciting development' in Covid-19 programme

Cambridge-based life sciences firm Avacta said that several of the Affimer reagents recently generated for development of  COVID-19 antigen saliva test have now also been shown to block the interaction between the virus’ spike protein and ACE2, a receptor on human cells that is key to the virus infection. Avacta and Cytiva are working together to develop a rapid point-of-care COVID-19 antigen saliva test to be mass produced for large-scale population screening and for self-testing by consumers. Dr Alastair Smith, chief executive officer of Avacta Group, said: “This is a very exciting development in the COVID-19 programme.” He added: “There is significant potential for a therapy that could help prevent infection and limit the progression of the disease, providing immediate benefit to patients. With a large and well-resourced partner, a neutralising Affimer therapy could potentially be developed more quickly than a vaccine and we believe that the likelihood of success would be high.”

Law firm launches ‘No offer, no fee scheme’ for house sellers

Law firm Birketts has launched a ‘no offer, no fee’ scheme for people looking to sell their homes during the pandemic. Amanda Angel (right), legal director in Birketts' residential property team, said the scheme: ”…allows a seller to instruct us to open a file, complete all necessary compliance and title checks and prepare a contract pack in advance of having accepted an offer or even in advance of having officially taken the property to the market. If they do not accept an offer or simply have a change of heart about selling their property before an offer is accepted, we will not charge any fee for the preparation work and they will be welcome to come back to us at any time in the future to pick things back up.”

Separately, Birketts has advised McGee Trustee on its sale of 100 per cent of the McGee Group, a London-based construction company, into an employee ownership trust for the sole benefit of the group’s 375 employees. A family-owned business by origin, McGee Group has traded for more than 60 years and the deal means it joins the growing number of employee-owned companies in the UK. Brian McGee said: “It would have been relatively easy for us to sell McGee Group to a third party, but we did not want to do that. Michael, John and I, similar to our father, have always recognised the contribution of our employees, which is why the move to employee ownership in many ways, was the obvious next phase of the McGee journey.” The Birketts team was co-led by Ed Savory (partner, corporate) and Lisa Hayward (legal director, head of employee incentives).

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New chief operating officer appointed at regional law firm

Regional law firm Ashtons Legal has pressed ahead with a strategic management change planned before the pandemic took hold and appointed a new chief operating officer, Ben Hallatt. Meanwhile, Norwich-based partner Tom Bailey takes over the helm of the regional commercial disputes team while also moving from employee to become an owner of the business. Ben Hallatt, who joined the firm in 2017 as a business manager for the firm’s business law group, said: “Like almost all businesses, Ashtons has been forced to do things differently over the past couple of months. The challenge ahead is ensuring that we don’t go back to ‘business as usual’ as some sort of normality returns, but instead capitalise on the benefits that we are seeing from enhanced use of technology and agile working with a vastly reduced carbon footprint.”

Ashtons’ CEO Ed O’Rourke said: “Ben has done a sterling job as a business manager for our corporate and commercial teams but what we now need is a firm-wide approach to continued change and Ben has the right skill set to help us deliver that. I am very much looking forward to working with him to help steer the Ashtons ship into its next phase of development.”

Separately, a poll of local businesses by Ashtons Legal showed that 86 per cent felt they will be increasingly willing to allow regular home working in the ‘new normal’ phase as the pandemic recedes.

Photo (l-r): Ben Hallatt, Ed O’Rourke and Tom Bailey

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New recruits at law firm’s wills, life planning and probate team

Essex law firm Fisher Jones Greenwood has recruited two new specialists into its wills, life planning and probate team. Carlie Brown (right) is a chartered legal executive who will be working in the firm’s Holland-on-Sea office and Rachael Fleet (left) joins its Billericay branch as a solicitor. Both specialise in the drafting of wills, administration of estates, powers of attorney and non-contentious probate matters. Carlie Brown has worked in the Tendring area for over fifteen years and Rachel Fleet has  worked in the north Essex area for nearly ten years and is working towards her STEP qualification to help residents with trust. Susanne Grimwade, head of the firm’s wills, life planning & probate team, said: “In these unprecedented times, the team are successfully navigating a new landscape and I am pleased to welcome two more to the team.” They will both be involved in FJG’s scheme to offer free wills in return for a donation to charity which has raised nearly £3 million in combined pledged charity donations, legacies and estate residues since the launch in January.

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