Saturday 31st October 2020
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 12/10/2020

Activity picks up in the region but business sentiment weakens

New activity at private firms in the East of England rose at a solid rate in September and work backlogs increased for the first time in nearly two years although business sentiment weakened. The NatWest East of England business activity index rose to 57.7 in September, up from 56.2 in August, as the survey pointed to a ‘strong and accelerated’ increase in activity as businesses re-opened and demand improved. The amount of new work secured by private firms increased but was softer than in the previous month. New orders won by services firms rose at faster rate than at goods producers. Meanwhile, outstanding business across the region increased in September, putting an end to 22 months of falling backlogs and reflecting  higher workloads and capacity pressures as well as delays in receiving components. But private firms in the East of England were less confident of higher activity levels in a year’s time with positive sentiment falling to the lowest since May and firms in the East appearing less upbeat than the UK average. Redundancies and restructuring continued to impact workforce numbers although the rate of job-shedding was the softest since March. Rising material prices and the cost of PPE equipment meant input cost inflation was the fastest in the East of the 12 regions covered by the survey. John Maude, NatWest Midlands & East regional board, said: “Companies across the East of England recorded a third successive monthly improvement in business activity following the continued reopening of client businesses... Meanwhile, there were signs of returning capacity pressures after incomplete work accumulated at private sector firms for the first time in almost two years. However, not all was positive after rising Covid-19 case numbers, tightening restrictions and uncertain demand conditions weighed on sentiment.”


Farmland marketed falls to lowest on record

It is inevitable that 2020 will see the lowest amount of farmland publicly marketed on record, as low supply, varied demand and uncertainty on Brexit and Covid-19 take their toll, according to Strutt & Parker. “In total, just 152 farms have been publicly marketed to date in 2020, which is 25 per cent fewer than in 2019 and 23 per cent fewer than the five-year average,” said Matthew Sudlow, head of estates and farm agency. “In our experience, some sellers are choosing to hold back from the market until we are past the worst of the Covid-19 crisis. However, others who had previously intended to sell on the open market, are choosing to market privately instead." But he says most farms that have been marketed are selling, although demand can be varied, depending on whether there is a local farmer-buyer or if the land has a broader appeal to investors or lifestyle. He added: “There is a belief amongst farmers that more land will come to the market next year, with cashflow already under pressure after a disappointing harvest, and 2021 also marking the start of the basic payment farm support payment being phased out in England. But at the moment there is little firm evidence to suggest that people are actively preparing to sell, and with interest rates still low, any increase could prove to be more of a trickle than a flood."

Activity in Suffolk rebounds but stays in negative territory

Both manufacturers and service companies in Suffolk enjoyed a strong rebound in the third quarter according to Suffolk Chamber's quarterly economic survey but most of the criteria it uses remain in negative territory. The balance of manufacturing firms reporting an increase in domestic sales rose by 59 points to -4 per cent, compared with the second quarter. The balance of firms with higher overseas sales stood at -7 per cent, up 32 centage points. Meanwhile, those reporting positive cashflow stood at +8%, up by 62 percentage points. Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communications & campaigns, said: “As expected and hoped-for, these figures are a noticeable improvement on the disastrous previous quarter. However, if business activity and sentiment is to continue to rebuild, it is vital that the government and local councils continue to move mountains in supporting these same businesses to boost investment and avoid further significant job losses.”

Guarded welcome for pre-pack sales

Government plans to bring in new laws requiring independent scrutiny of so-called pre-pack administration sales have been welcomed by R3. But it warns that a balance needs to be struck between boosting confidence and transparency in pre-packs and protecting the role they play in business rescue. Pre-pack deals involve selling part, or all of a company’s business or assets prior to administration, with the speed helping to save jobs and the value of the business and save jobs. The proposed new laws deal with concerns that creditor interests may be compromised by pre-packs, particularly if a sale is made to connected parties, such as a company’s directors or shareholders. R3 Eastern chair Alistair Bacon, of AMB Law in the region, said: “Having agreed that it should be mandatory for pre-pack sales to connected party purchasers to be referred for an independent opinion, R3 broadly supports the government’s announcement. In particular, the government’s decision not to ban such sales is the right one."

Suffolk care home site up for sale

A development site with planning permission for a 75 bedroom care home in a town centre location in Stowmarket is up for sale with a guide price of £2.75 million. A buyer could also acquire adjoining land with consent for 93 residential flats. Jordan Rundle, associate director at Christie & Co, who is handling the sale, said: “It is rare for development opportunities to come to market situated in highly accessible town-centre locations and with the benefit of full planning permission in place. The development could make an excellent addition to corporate or regional operators based in the East Anglia area.”

Office space available with marina views in Ipswich

Penn Commercial has been appointed agent for office space at Marina House, on Fox’s Marina in Wherstead, Ipswich. The ground floor offers around 5,100 sq ft of office space with parking for 20 vehicles just two minutes from the A14. Refurbishment works to the premises will be agreed with potential occupants and carried out according to the tenant’s requirements. Vanessa Penn, managing director of Penn Commercial, said: “Ipswich’s Fox’s Marina is in great demand, being conveniently located and with delightful views of the Boat Yard and River Orwell. Overlooking the marina, with a number of local amenities on the doorstep, these premises would be ideal as a London satellite office, being so close to the A14 and rail station.” Marina House is available to let on new lease terms of £80,000 + Vat pa and could also be taken with Harbour Landing, on the first floor, to create a 10,296 sq ft office.

See Profile Penn Commercial

Digital marketing firm opens in Lowestoft with plans for growth in offshore sector

Universal Web Design, a digital marketing firm, is setting up a new office at OrbisEnergy in Lowestoft where it will create 30 new jobs working for the offshore renewables sector and with ambitions to create 250 jobs within five years. The firm has existing energy clients and operations director Lauren Nevill has over 10 years of experience in the energy sector before moving into marketing. She said: “We aim to become a major employer in the area with a five-year plan of creating more than 250 jobs for local people. We want to employ talented personnel with big ambitions and also enhance the skills of current workers.” The firm will join almost 40 other businesses and organisations which have a base at OrbisEnergy.

Shared experiences help venues re-launch facilities

Meet Cambridge has unveiled a support strategy to help venues re-launch their facilities following closure. The venue finding service is helping its members by providing advice on virtual showrounds, information from the latest guidelines, Covid-secure accreditations and in sharing experiences and knowledge between venues. With small business meetings of up to 30 people in Covid-secure settings now allowed, some venues have opened and are taking enquiries from event organisers looking to hold team meetings, training sessions and strategy days. Judith Sloane, acting manager for Meet Cambridge, said: “Our venues experienced huge challenges during lockdown with the total ban on opening leading to many staff being furloughed. Now that guidance is allowing small business meetings, a number of our venues are gradually re-opening.” Venues open for small business meetings include academic settings such as Jesus College, Murray Edwards College, Robinson College, Madingley Hall, The Møller Institute, The Pitt Building and Anglia Ruskin University. Other spaces open now or later in October include: IWM Duxford, Hilton Cambridge City Centre, Newmarket Racecourse, Storey’s Field, The Granta Centre and University Arms & Parker’s Tavern.

Photo: The Meet Cambridge team during a site visit to Madingley Hall.

Structural engineering firm takes on apprentice

As a result of its work with One sixth-form college, Ipswich-based structural engineering business, Superstructures, has taken on a second degree apprentice. Having undertaken a week of work experience prior to lockdown in March, Lee Allender joined Superstructures as a degree apprentice in September, after finishing his BTEC Engineering course at One. He has now started his degree in Civil Engineering at Anglia Ruskin, with all learning delivered remotely for at least this semester. Alongside the 11-strong team, Lee also joins fellow Degree Apprentice, Liam Swann who started with the business last year having also completed his BTEC Engineering course at One. James Potter, MD of Superstructures, said: “The relationship with One and the degree apprenticeship initiative has been a great success. We're building a team for the future and having well-rounded young people in the business that we can develop alongside their education is absolutely the way forward and enables us to keep growing as a company.”

Photo: James Potter, MD of Superstructures with degree apprentices Liam Swann and Lee Allender.