Tuesday 01st December 2020
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 02/11/2020

Fears over economy take toll on business confidence

Businesses in the East of England reported a brighter view of their own prospects in October but overall confidence fell when taken alongside views on the wider  economy and more firms are planning to shed jobs, according to a Lloyds Bank survey. Taken before this week's lockdown was announced, the bank’s business barometer shows firms' confidence in their own prospects rose to 5 per cent, up one point on September. But overall confidence in the East dipped by three points to -8 per cent  although this was still the second highest of any UK region. Meanwhile, a net balance of 11 per cent expect to reduce staff levels over the next year, more than in the previous month. Nationally overall confidence dropped seven points in October to -18 per cent, reflecting a sharp fall in optimism and ending a picture which had been steadily improving since May. David Atkinson, regional director for the East of England at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “With parts of the region moving to a tier two lockdown this month, it’s unsurprising to see confidence dipping slightly. That said, businesses in the East of England have proven their resilience during this crisis and it’s encouraging to see some reporting a more positive outlook towards their own business prospects.” Confidence in the hospitality and arts & leisure sector fell sharply.

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Country houses with farmland in demand as urban buyers seek green space

Country houses which have farmland attached in the region are in strong demand from city-dwellers seeking a rural base. Acccording to Gi D’Angibau, who leads the rural team at Savills Chelmsford: “There continues to be a remarkable uptick in interest for houses in the country and amenity farmland as many urban-based buyers seek more green space. Rural estates with notable residential components, such as the Wood Hall Estate in Norfolk, are also attracting interest at the higher end of the market, while greenfield land with forestry planting potential shows natural capital motives are beginning to gain traction.” Savills third quarter farmland values survey showed that prices are “robust, with minimal changes to the end of September.” The agent says demand fundamentals are expected to remain strong and the market steady.

Oliver Carr, from the rural team at Savills Cambridge, said: “Looking ahead, the sector is set for radical change, with trade and policy reform expected to develop in detail before the year end. However, times of economic uncertainty have traditionally proven fruitful for farmland investors and our analysis shows in the seven years following the global financial crisis farmland outperformed UK equities, gold and bonds.” Momentum behind a ‘green recovery’ was likely to complement this.

Cambs-based healthcare communications company sold

Cambs-based patient messaging specialist Mjog has been sold to a Sweden-based patient video consultation provider, Kry International AB, in a deal where PEM Corporate Finance was lead adviser to the vendors. With a significant presence in the UK primary care market, Mjog delivers more than three million messages every month, including appointment reminders, recalls and results reaching tens of millions of patients. It provides a range of two-way communications solutions such as digital app, SMS, email and voice messaging and is used by GPs, CCGs, community care, screening clinics, hospital trusts and private healthcare providers. Kry acquired 100 per cent of the share capital from the MJog management team who founded the business in 2002 in response to the problem of patient “no-shows”. PEM Corporate Finance ran a competitive marketing process which saw strong interest in MJog from a broad range of trade and specialist private equity buyers. Kevin Nutt, CEO of MJog said: “PEM Corporate Finance were able to reach a large and varied number of serious potential buyers for the business. Their commercial insight, good humour and tenacity were key to our being able to secure such a good outcome. And we enjoyed working with them.”

Lake Falconer, partner at PEM Corporate Finance added: “We’re delighted to have helped Kevin and his fellow directors find a strategic buyer which can really build on MJog’s impressive market position in UK healthcare. We had a lot of interest from trade and financial buyers in the UK and overseas which is testament to MJog’s strength and reputation.” Together with Kry’s UK subsidiary Livi, the acquisition builds a strong portfolio of digital healthcare communication, triage and patient management tools which will improve patient access to their GP, deliver a better patient experience and create real cost savings for the NHS. Legal advice to the vendor was provided by Neil Addison at Hierons LLP.

See Profile PEM Corporate Finance

Dog food companies combine for growth

Two of the region’s dog food companies, Stowmarket-based Skinner’s and Naturediet are combining in a bid to drive the growth of both businesses. Skinner’s is investing alongside Daniel Masters, managing director of Norfolk-based Naturediet, in a deal which sees Skinner’s acquire a majority shareholding in Naturediet and provides an exit for the founding Orrow family. Stradbroke-based Skinner’s is one the oldest dog food brands in the UK and through its Field & Trial range, the firm is a leading manufacturer of branded dry working dog food with revenues of around £19m. Naturediet, based at Ickburgh, is a leading manufacturer of branded natural wet dog food, with revenues of around £4.5m. The partnership will bring two key markets (wet and dry) together and the group will continue to operate from two separate locations in the region. Skinner’s chairman Roger Skinner said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Naturediet and its team into the Skinner’s group. By combining Skinner’s and Naturediet, we are bringing together expert manufacturing capabilities across both dry and wet dog food, which should unlock significant future growth and new product development opportunities for both brands.”

Dental group expands with bank support

Ipswich-based Prime Dental Services has acquired a third practice after receiving funding of more than £540,000 from Lloyds Bank. The group, which owns and operates two dental surgeries across Ipswich and Diss, has bought a third practice, where work to upgrade and expand it is underway. This will allow for the addition of two new treatment rooms and a new larger reception area. The funding has also allowed the business to buy land adjacent to its practice in Diss for future expansion. The business has also received a separate £50,000 bounce bank Loan from Lloyds Bank after it was forced to temporarily close its doors.

Over 100 sign up for apprenticeships in artificial intelligence

Training provider Cambridge Spark has inducted more than 100 people for apprenticeships in data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Cambridge Spark is also working with Anglia Ruskin University to deliver more than 80 degree apprentices. Combined with the 50 apprentices already training, it takes the total number of learners on degree-level programmes to over 200 at the firm. Raoul-Gabriel Urma, CEO and founder, said: "This year's cohort of more than 100 apprentices marks a major achievement for Cambridge Spark, in our mission to provide accessible training to help people to develop data science and machine learning skills and pursue new careers.” The demand for data science professionals has tripled over the last five years according to a report by The Royal Society but thousands of job roles remain unfilled as organisations struggle to find the talent they need.

EpiCentre innovation centre in Haverhill off to a 'flying start' as four firms take space

Four companies have signed up to take space and talks are in hand with other potential occupiers at The EpiCentre innovation centre at Haverhill Research Park which was opened at a ceremony on Monday. “We are off to a flying start with four companies already signed up and more in the pipeline for this superb  facility, which will become a prime business hub for entrepreneurs and fast growing companies in the surrounding area,” said Tim Smith, deputy managing director of Oxford Innovation, the operator of The EpiCentre. Development of the new 30,000 sq ft four-storey EpiCentre was made possible with a £6.2m cash boost provided jointly through a £3.5m loan by West Suffolk Council and £2.7m of Local Growth Fund investment from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Present at the opening of the innovation centre was Austen Adams the business board chairman of the combined authority, Cllr. John Griffiths, leader of West Suffolk Council and Nic Rumsey, managing director of developer Jaynic. Austen Adams said: “The EpiCentre is a brilliant example of an innovative project that will help to unlock the East of England’s growth potential by helping start-ups to thrive and create new jobs."

Jaynic managing director Nic Rumsey, said: “I would like to thank the combined authority and West Suffolk Council for their unwavering moral and financial support that has made this development possible and look forward to seeing this becoming a thriving centre for the benefit of the wider community.” The EpiCentre has over 60 office suites available from 172 sqft up to 840 sq ft including three flexible shared purpose-built laboratory spaces with access to specialist equipment, together with conference and meetings rooms, training facilities and a ‘work-hub’ area for shared working.

Photo, top (l-r): Kelly Boosey (Oxford Innovation), John Griffiths (leader West Suffolk Council), Austen Adams (Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority), Nic Rumsey (Jaynic) and Babita Devi (Oxford Innovation).

Below- The Epicentre.

See Profile Jaynic

New head office secured for growing regional law firm

A new head office building for regional solicitors Holmes & Hills has been secured in Marks Tey by agents Fenn Wright. The premises on London Road, total around 14,500 sq ft and is the sixth location for the growing law firm. Holmes & Hills managing partner Mark Cornell, said: “We are thrilled by the opportunity this building offers us. We believe the location to be second to none in the region. Just off junction 25 of the A12, and 400 metres from Marks Tey railway station, the site of Holmes & Hills’ new A12 commercial hub means it will become the firm’s regional head office. This means our commercial clients and colleagues will be able to avoid town centre traffic and will arrive at our office to find ample on-site parking and a modern, welcoming environment.”

Jeremy Newman, partner at Fenn Wright, said: “We are delighted to have been able to let this landmark building to Holmes & Hills and believe it will offer them a fantastic location for them to expand their business and wish them all the very best with their move.”

See Profile Fenn Wright

Ipswich warehouse unit let to expanding company

Penn Commercial has let a modern warehouse unit with first and second floor offices at Claydon Business Park, Ipswich to international freight forwarding company, Charles Kendall Freight. Vanessa Penn, managing director of Penn Commercial, said: “We are pleased to be able to assist Charles Kendall Freight with a large, high-specification warehouse to cater to their recent expansion, brought about by the growing demands of their online fulfilment business. Claydon Business Park provides a well-managed, well-maintained, and secure business environment, with a variety of modern, mixed-tenant premises, offering a solid business base, with a range of convenient on-site services. Penn Commercial also has a range of other offices to let on this desirable site.”  The total area of Unit 109 (DR1) is 46,825 sq ft, with a generous yard, including 30 on-site car parking spaces and HGV facilities for loading / unloading. Peter Bedford, financial director of Charles Kendall Freight, said: “We were impressed with the site at Claydon Business Park with location and the mix of warehouse and office space being deciding factors.”

See Profile Penn Commercial

Success for law firm in legal guide

Law firm Fisher Jones Greenwood has had two ranked band 1 departments and two ranked individuals in the 2021 edition of Chambers & Partners UK legal directory. The firm’s corporate & commercial team has superseded 2018’s band 2 ranking again to join the family team in a band 1 ranking. The guide acknowledges the team’s established presence in the charity, education and healthcare sectors; highlighting their ability to draw on other teams at FJG to provide a complete service to corporate clients. Senior partner, Tony Fisher (photo, right) heads the firm’s corporate & commercial team and is ranked at band 1 individually after recently being named in the 2021 edition of the Legal 500. Following on from his recommendation in the Legal 500; head of the family law team, Simon Osborn (photo, left) is recommended individually at band 2 in the Chambers guide. Paula Cameron, managing partner at FJG, said: “We are overjoyed with the recognition we’ve received in this well-respected legal guide. As the rankings are considered on the basis of client feedback, this is befitting recognition to the dedication and hard work put in by these teams and individuals alike.”

Separately, FJG's Clacton-based wills, life planning and probate partner, Andrea Godfrey has passed the level 2 British Sign Language (BSL) course qualification which enables individuals to progress their skills to communicate with deaf people using BSL in a variety of everyday situations. FJG was awarded the deaf-aware quality mark from the Royal Association for Deaf people in 2018 as well as being the first law firm to work with SignLive, ensuring deaf clients gain swifter access to a qualified BSL Interpreter.

See Profile Fisher Jones Greenwood

Law firm launches new tax incentive-checking app

The corporate tax team at law firm Birketts has launched a new app for checking the eligibility of companies for the seed enterprise investment scheme (SEIS) and enterprise investment scheme (EIS), which could offer potential investors attractive tax incentives for backing certain businesses. By answering a series of questions, the app can quickly tell business owners whether they are potentially eligible for either scheme, with the SEIS for start-ups and the EIS for a broader range of businesses. Partner and head of corporate tax at Birketts Karl Pocock said: “Ever-changing tax legislation can leave businesses facing a wealth of complex tax issues – our new app is designed to cut through these complications to make finding new investment opportunities as clear as possible.”

See Profile Birketts

Expansion at Ipswich-based company using innovative recruitment

Ipswich-based company secretarial and formation specialists Inform Direct has found innovative ways to help two new recruits get up to speed with their roles and bond with colleagues whilst working from home. Emma Love (photo), who joins as customer support executive after ten years spent in the insurance industry, said: “This is a completely new industry for me but I am really enjoying building on my skills and working with our cloud-based software used by accountants.”

Callum Watson (photo) said : “It has been strange starting a new role in these times as there is less social interaction offset to benefits of working from home. However thanks to technology I have been able to join my colleagues on video calls and received excellent training sessions from very supportive managers and directors.”

John Korchak, operations director added: “Our expanding portfolio of clients meant that we needed additional members of the team to support them and were delighted to welcome Emma and Callum to help us.”

Busy construction firm bolsters workforce with new apprenctices

Production levels at Ipswich-based SEH French Construction have hit new heights as the firm’s sites have re-opened whilst it has also bolstered its workforce with two new apprentices. George Page had an interview with the company in February for a carpentry and joinery apprenticeship before lockdown and was recruited as work on the firm’s sites resumed. Another new apprentice, Sam Piotrowski, who had completed level 1 and level 2 bricklaying courses at Suffolk New College and had signed up to TrAC was also taken on. Director Simon Girling said: “Although our sites were closed, we all remained so busy. It became a case of maintaining the structure of the company and not losing sight of our priorities, one of which has always been recruiting the most talented young people we can find.”

Podcast on ensuring diversity in the workplace

In the second of a series of special podcast interview episodes, business advisory experts Mark Curtis and James Lay, partners at MHA Larking Gowen, lift the lid on diversity in the workplace and discuss what business leaders can do to tackle the issue. Joining them are guest speakers from Abstract, an award-winning learning and development company. Sue Liburd MBE is a businesswoman, human capital innovation consultant and business mentor; and Andy Nicol, CEO of Abstract, is a former rugby union player, who represented his country for 10 years from 1991 and also played for the British Lions on two tours. They talk through the importance for business leaders of the key elements of inclusive leadership and how to ensure diversity in the workplace. Listen here or on Apple Podcast

See Profile MHA Larking Gowen

Head of venue-finding service shortlisted for award

The acting manager of venue-finding service Meet Cambridge has been shortlisted for a national award in recognition of her achievements over the last year. Judith Sloane (right), who heads Meet Cambridge, has been included in the miaList, an annual tribute by the Meetings Industry Association to the UK’s leading event professionals. Taking over at the start of lockdown, she will now go forward to a final virtual interview with the team of judges, after which the winners will be announced in December. Judith Sloane was nominated by her colleagues, as well as members of the Meet Cambridge portfolio, who praised her innovative and intuitive approach to supporting the 50-plus venues during Covid-19 when meetings and events have been strictly curtailed. She said: “The meetings industry has experienced unprecedented challenges over the last months and it has been a pleasure to be able to support our venues by bringing them together, even if only virtually.