Wednesday 08th July 2020
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 26/05/2020

Keen appetite for warehouse space buoys up industrial property sector

Firms’ appetite for new industrial units has stayed ‘keen’ in the region during the lockdown with a steady take-up of warehouse units by both manufacturers and retailers involved in internet shopping. The Peterborough office of agent Barker Storey Matthews has seen a constant take-up of smaller warehouse units in the past two months particularly at two newly-built speculative developments, Heron Court in Yaxley and at Merlin Court in Market Deeping, due for completion in June. Demand has also come from ‘green’ businesses such as electrical contractors and component suppliers for electronic vehicles. Since March, the agent says no new warehouses have come to the market so the availability of stock is coming under increasing pressure. Overall industrial property vacancy levels around Peterborough have fallen from over 1.5 million sq ft in 2014 to 470,000 sq ft by March, just 1.7 per cent of the total stock. Limited options are available at Gateway Park, the 250 acre development by Roxhill next to the A1(M), where volume distributors such as Lidl have announced deals. Richard Jones of the agent’s Peterborough office said: “...the industrial sector remains the main growth area of the commercial market - and the wider economy here. We firmly believe it will lead the way as we come through the shadows cast by the coronavirus.”

Photo: Heron Court, Eagle Business Park, Yaxley

Shake-up of insolvency laws gives lifeline to struggling firms

Businesses struggling due to Covid-19 are set to be offered a lifeline with one of the largest shake-ups of insolvency laws in nearly 20 years, says the Eastern branch of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3. The new Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill which could become law in June introduces a moratorium which will give struggling companies a 20-business day opportunity to consider a rescue plan, extendable to 40 business days, with further extensions at the agreement of creditors or the court. Further proposed measures include temporary changes to wrongful trading provisions, enabling businesses to operate without the threat of personal liability to directors. Written warnings from creditors and winding up petitions against struggling companies could also be suspended. R3 Eastern chair Alistair Bacon of AMB Law in the region, said: "The proposed legislation will give both solvent and insolvent businesses crucial breathing space and increased legislative flexibility to review options without being pushed prematurely into an insolvency procedure. This new approach could make a significant contribution to repairing the economic devastation caused by the current pandemic.”

Stansted owner warns of ‘huge consequences’ of quarantine policies

The CEO of Stansted Airport’s owner has warned that a blanket quarantine policy will be a “brick wall to the recovery of the UK aviation and tourism industries, with huge consequences for UK jobs and gdp”. Charlie Cornish, group CEO of MAG, said:“European countries are starting to open up, and some that are popular with British holidaymakers want to agree two-way arrangements with the UK to enable travel. Government has to take a risk-based approach to quarantine arrangements to enable air travel to restart and to allow British people to enjoy well-earned holidays in safe countries. At the same time this would help kick start UK tourism and hospitality industries, saving businesses and jobs.” He added: “A blanket quarantine will seriously jeopardise the long term future of the sector and put tens of thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of economic value, at risk.”

Diversified family firm makes second acquisition in a year

Milbank Group a family-owned diversified firm based near Colchester, has acquired a plant bio stimulant business, Orion Future Technology, to join its agricultural arm. The deal follows a retirement sale and marks the sixth acquisition for Milbank, which was advised by law firm Birketts and the second in the past 12 months. Orion FT complements Milbank’s range of agricultural businesses including ARK Agriculture and Thomas & Fontaine (trading as Secure Covers). Orion FT was established in 2005 and is a pioneer in silicon based biostimulant technology and a lead provider of plant nutrient solutions. The business has grown significantly and today has sales in 20 countries whilst its products are widely used on edible crops. It also has opportunities for applications in broadacre crops. Martyn Charik and Gidon Bahiri, founders and directors of Orion FT, said: “We explored a number of options for some time and both agreed that the family owned Milbank Group, with its young management team, would take the business forward whilst maintaining the high level of service, research and development that our customers are used to.”  James Kennedy (photo), formally of Gemini Agriculture and Certis UK, will take over as Orion FT commercial director supported by the team at ARK Agriculture and the firm will continue research on food production which it undertakes with universities. The deal was led by Prism Corporate Broking (buy side advisors), Birketts Solicitors and Ensors (tax due diligence). James Allen, partner in Birketts' corporate team, led the deal supported by other specialists including Stephanie Newman.

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Suffolk firms ‘adapt’ to new trading environment

A growing number of Suffolk firms are adapting to their new trading environments whilst others are actively planning to restart or expand their operations in the immediate future, according to the chamber's latest survey of how its members are responding to Covid 19. The survey released last week found that three quarters of firms are working flexibly, a third are looking at alternative supply chains and that 41 per cent of the firms who responded are planning on re-opening with additional safety measures, an increase on the previous week. Meanwhile, 40 per cent of firms are communicating with customers and suppliers on the action they plan. Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communications & campaigns, said: “This week’s survey data suggests that many Suffolk Chamber businesses are successfully adapting their commercial models to the situation created by the Covid 19 pandemic. Some are doing things totally differently, whilst others are looking to re-open their factories and offices very soon whilst ensuring the safety of their customers and staff.

Connection speeds leap in Essex villages as hyperfast broadband goes live

Construction of a new full-fibre broadband network has completed and gone live in rural north Essex during the lockdown, providing some of the UK’s fastest speeds to residents and businesses according to Essex-based provider County Broadband. Eight Ash Green, Aldham and Dale Close in Stanway near Colchester are now connected to the gigabit-capable network and have leapt into the UK’s top 10 per cent for digital connectivity. Speeds up to 1,000 Mbps are available – 18 times faster than the UK average and 10 times faster than copper-based superfast broadband. The villages gave the go-ahead to the rollout plans backed by millions of pounds of private funding last year and the government gave approval for work to continue during the lockdown. Lloyd Felton, chief executive of County Broadband, said: “The current lockdown has shone a spotlight on our outdated digital infrastructure. Our aim is to make rural Essex and the wider region digital flagbearers by meeting today’s demands of fast, uninterrupted connections whilst at the same time ensuring all rural and hard-to-reach premises are future-ready to cope with ever increasing data requirements.” The government has pledged that all of the UK should have access to gigabit capable speeds by 2025.

East of England Co-op ‘confident for the future’ despite fall in profits

The East of England Co-op has seen a 19 per cent fall in underlying trading profits due to rising costs and the impact of increases in the national living wage but says it is in a strong position to weather the coronavirus storm. Joint chief executive Doug Field said: “It is impossible to predict the full financial impact of Covid 19. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, we saw a double-digit uplift in sales, with panic buying clearing the supply chain of certain items. This is now stabilising, and we are beginning to see more normal sales volumes return.” The business reported trading profits of £4.5m in “a challenging market” and over the past five years, it has invested over £76m in its business, introducing new technologies and refurbishing our stores and branches. Overall sales were down last year, due in part to the sale of its pharmacy and optical businesses and the closure of its distribution centre, but sales from continuing businesses grew by 2 per cent (£6.0m) and cashflow by £0.7m. The business saw a £5.0m increase in food sales, with over £1m of locally-sourced produce sold in one fortnight. Mr Field added: “We are confident for the future, despite the current pandemic. We have a robust balance sheet and the resources we need to see us through the foreseeable future.”

Golfers get back into the swing at Wyboston Lakes

When golfers in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire heard that Wyboston Lakes golf course was reopening after seven weeks in lockdown, they were quick to log on to its online booking site. As a result, in a few hours the course sold almost all its tee times for the week and many for the following week. On the Monday and Tuesday, website visits were 653 per cent above recent levels. Linden Beattie, hotel general manager, said: “It’s very exciting to be able to welcome our golfers back to Wyboston Lakes Resort. There are a few things that will be different and some areas that we need the players help with and strict guidelines are in place for the safety of all.” As well as strict social distancing, golfers can only play on their own, as a two-ball with one individual from a different household, or as a two, three or four ball only with members of their own household. Linden Beattie added: “During the period of closure and the fine weather our grounds team have been diligent in keeping the course and the grounds looking beautiful. They’re certainly ready for golfers to let loose their swings and their frustrations after so many weeks of lockdown.” www.wybostonlakes.co.uk

Video chats at venues preserve “life in lockdown” for future generations

Meet Cambridge has been supporting its venues during lockdown by checking in on staff at its member venues in a series of video chats. The videos showing ‘Life In Lockdown’ with staff from Newnham College, Gonville & Caius College, The Hilton Cambridge City Centre, The Møller Institute, Newmarket Racecourses and Corpus Christi College have been selected to form part of an official archive, ‘Collecting COVID-19’, being compiled by Cambridge University Library which will be available for future generations. Meet Cambridge, which has more than 50 venues in its portfolio, all of which are closed, has been providing support for its members over recent weeks as they deal with the current ban on conferences and meetings and explore ways to re-start their businesses. Judith Sloane (photo), manager at Meet Cambridge, said: “In these difficult times, we wanted to engage with our colleagues in our venues in a positive way and to offer a human perspective on what we are all going through. Not only have we received great feedback on these videos, but they will now go into historical records in this official ‘Collecting COVID-19’ archive; it’s fantastic news and we hope people down the years will find them interesting.” www.meet-cambridge.com

Cambs company puts kindness top of the agenda

Cambs-based Domino Printing supported Mental Health Awareness Week (18th-24th May) with a range of initiatives on this year’s theme of kindness – particularly relevant in the Covid 19 crisis. As part of its Wellness Programme, Domino Printing is encouraging employees to get involved by contributing to its new Yammer page called ‘kindness matters’, sharing stories and photos of how everyone should be kind to themselves and highlighting colleagues who have shown acts of kindness.  The campaign is being led by the company’s mental health first aiders who trained with the charity Cambridgeshire, Peterborough & South Lincolnshire Mind. Sharon Budworth, head of HR, UK & EMEA at the company, said: “At Domino we acted quickly to ensure all our employees had the right information and the right support needed to continue to work on site, to work from home, to deal with the pressure of childcare and home schooling, as well as the anxiety of having to self-isolate or look after poorly family members.”

Photo: Members of Domino Printing’s team of mental health first aiders lead focus on kindness to support Mental Health Awareness Week.