Wednesday 12th August 2020
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 20/07/2020

‘Significant increase’ in demand for advice from insolvency practitioners

Research among R3’s insolvency profession members shows there has been a significant increase in existing and new clients requesting support on how to manage reduced demand for their products and services. Clients are also asking for guidance on how they can manage working capital shortages in cashflow forecasts. Meanwhile, a surprise fall in the number of corporate insolvencies across the country does not yet reflect the effect of the pandemic on businesses, according to the Eastern branch of R3. Insolvency Service figures show that there were 732 company insolvencies in England and Wales in June, lower than in May and a 50 per cent drop on the figure for June last year. It was driven by a sharp reduction in the number of creditors’ voluntary liquidations and fewer administrations. R3 Eastern chair Alistair Bacon, of AMB Law in the region, said: “The statistics still do not reflect the harm that the pandemic is wielding on businesses due to two key factors: the time lag between setting up and entering corporate insolvency processes, and the government’s valuable safety net of business support measures.” He added: “In reality, the economic contraction in April and May shows that consumer spending had halted, and consumer confidence was unsurprisingly low during both months, with no real improvement in June. Business owners are naturally worried about the health of the economy over the next year and, ultimately, about their own financial survival.”

Funding confirmed for £43 million Lowestoft Flood Defence Project

The government has confirmed funding of over £43 million for the Lowestoft Flood Defence Project, the single-largest award to any scheme in England and part of a £170 million investment to accelerate 22 ‘shovel-ready’ flood defence projects. It will create a tidal barrier and flood walls to protect key infrastructure and businesses and provide a boost to the offshore energy and tourism sectors in the Suffolk coastal town.  Welcoming the scheme Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, said: “The scheme will encourage businesses to expand and move in to the area, including in the offshore energy and fishing sectors, will protect the town centre at a time that we need to be driving forward a renaissance in the high street, and will safeguard vital infrastructure, such as the railway station." He added: “Lowestoft is going to be incredibly busy in the next few years, with both this project and the building of the 3rd Crossing. In the short term this will provide a much needed boost to the local economy and in the long term it will lay the foundations for an exciting future, in which we must ensure that local people obtain the maximum benefit.”

Housebuilder restarts construction amidst signs of optimism

East Anglian housebuilder Bennett Homes is looking forward to a positive return to business after the lockdown and has welcomed the stamp duty holiday. Bennett Homes, based in Nowton near Bury, has re-started construction on most of its developments across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and has re-opened its show homes and sales offices. Interest from buyers has been strong across all sites, particularly for family homes in more rural settings as people re-evaluate their lifestyles and more are able to work from home. Managing director Edward Parker (right) said: “Getting back to work both in terms of construction at our developments and our sales operations has been a positive experience. We have been delighted by the number of buyers who have come back after the lockdown and also new customers who are now keen to move. The government’s stamp duty holiday will undoubtedly help recovery over the coming months and is a welcome help to buyers.”

Separately, land values in the East of England have remained relatively stable despite restrictions slowing the level of transactions, according to Savills. The value of greenfield sites in the East of England dropped by 0.9 per cent in the three months up to the end of June, with annual growth still at 2.9 per cent; outperforming the national trend. Tony Lockwood from Savills Chelmsford said the relatively robust performance was testament to the continued popularity of the region among housebuilders and developers. “Activity in the land market is picking up, albeit from a low base, and confidence is returning due, in part, to the uptick in the housing market and the release of pent up demand for unit sales,” he said.

Briefly

New warehouse space in short supply

A pick-up in deals for new warehouse space in the region means there is less than a year’s worth of Grade A supply (units of 100,000 sq ft +) available in the East of England, according to Savills. Just 1.26 million sq ft remains across six units and only 15 per cent of warehouse space supply in the East is Grade A compared with 45 per cent this time last year. Much of the current supply is not suitable for modern occupiers needs. Today, there are only two units under construction at Gateway Peterborough totalling 611,000 sq ft which are due to complete soon. Jaynic’s Gateway 14 in Stowmarket will provide good quality space but will not be ready for occupation until 2022. William Rose of Savills Peterborough said :“Warehouse supply in the East of England remains chronically low and is likely to impact future take-up. What’s more, there have been no transactions for second hand space in the first half of the year, highlighting occupier preference for better quality units. We know that demand remains high, particularly from online retailers who are well placed to capitalise on evolving consumer habits following the Covid-19 lockdown, but despite the East being a key strategic location there is simply nowhere for them to go.”

Environmental firms merge

Newmarket-based Seed Environmental is merging with Paulex Environmental, which has its hq in Exeter. Seed Environmental managing director Matthew Watts (right) said: “With offices covering most of the UK, bringing us together with Paulex not only gives us national coverage as a combined company, but also combines our skill sets for clients of both businesses. This is very much a strategic merger to enable us to improve our service and broaden our offering.” Both companies specialise in environmental and property incident response, site investigation, remediation and restoration services, environmental claims management and monitoring for insurance companies, commercial and public sector clients, along with homeowners. The merger brings the number of people employed to over 100.

Collaborative life sciences initiative launches in Cambridge

Deloitte has launched a collaborative platform for organisations in the biotech, medtech, pharmaceutical and technology sectors and prospective investors, to come together to tackle the biggest challenges they face. The Life Sciences Catalyst will facilitate connections between people, businesses and investors to support companies with their growth. It has a physical presence in Cambridge and will enable companies to access an online database of white papers, take part in a virtual events programme, attend business surgeries and access Deloitte’s Biotech-in–a-Box solutions. Deloitte partner and leader for the public sector technology and digital risk business, Fran Cousins, who will be leading the initiative, said: “The Life Sciences Catalyst combines the best business leaders and life sciences expertise with the local and global capabilities of Deloitte to generate business growth in Cambridge. Supporting companies throughout their scale-up journey, we will provide dedicated support, investment summits, webinars, original insight, research and a network to catalyse success in the Cambridge economy.”

Universities group launches business recovery fund

EIRA, a consortium of seven universities based in the East which aims to connect businesses with academic experts, has launched the Enabling Recovery Fund to support businesses in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. EIRA director, Dr. Kirstie Cochrane said: “This scheme will provide project funding for businesses, particularly SMEs, to work with our academic experts in order to find solutions to their current challenges. Whether that’s considering moving into a new market, the uptake of new technology to work efficiently online or developing a new product, we want our regional business community to know that EIRA are here to support business recovery.” Funds for projects are available up to £6k, for projects worth up to £7.5k. EIRA funds 80 per cent of the total value of the project, with companies funding the remaining 20 per cent. The closing date for applications is September 11.

Partner appointed to healthcare team

Chartered accountants Lovewell Blake has appointed Matt Sturman (right) as a partner in the firm’s growing healthcare team. He joined Lovewell Blake in 2006 and previously worked in the firm’s corporate services and corporate finance departments. He now advises medical, dental and care professionals on accountancy, tax and pensions issues. The team was created in January following a merger of the firm’s medical and dental teams and is one of the biggest specialist healthcare accountancy teams in the country with five dedicated partners and 30 specialist staff.

Thames barge sails out of lockdown at Port of Ipswich

The Thames sailing barge (TSB) Victor, which is based outside ABP's Ipswich office on the Waterfront, locked out of the wet dock last week for a shakedown sail on the River Orwell with crew only. Built in Ipswich, TSB Victor is 125 years old and has not sailed since March. In a normal year, the barge would make over 100 trips from the Waterfront, carrying almost 3,000 passengers. Together with other Thames barges, Victor helped carry more than 13,600 passengers from Ipswich on trips and dining outings. Skipper Dave Westwood said: "These have been very difficult months for the Victor but we are looking forward to getting back to business and showing our customers how beautiful the River Orwell is especially under sail on a Thames Barge with our full programme, commencing from the 12th July.”