Monday 01st March 2021
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 19/01/2021

Firms in the East take up Covid loans worth almost £6 billion

The huge scale of government lending in the region during the pandemic has been highlighted by figures showing over 145,000 businesses across the East have received a total of almost £6bn in funding under the two largest Covid-19 loan schemes. Figures from the state-owned British Business Bank showed that nearly 138,000 loans worth nearly £4.2bn have been offered across the East under the bounce bank loan scheme; a six-year term loan from £2 -50,000. Meanwhile, over 7,400 loans worth nearly £1.8bn have been offered in the region under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, which provides loans, overdrafts, invoice finance & asset finance of up to £5m. In all, funding to businesses in the East accounted for a tenth of the national total. Catherine Lewis La Torre, chief executive officer of the British Business Bank, said: “Looking towards economic recovery, we’re pleased to see the Coronavirus loan schemes continuing to support smaller businesses in the East of England in accessing the finance they need to help them to keep trading and to support their future growth plans.”

Recently-appointed business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng added: “While there are still tough times ahead, we will continue to offer all the support we can to protect jobs and keep businesses afloat so we can look to not only restart our economy, but build back better from the pandemic.”

Farmland market holds up despite scarcity of sales

Farmland prices rose by an average of 3 per cent in 2020 with a record low supply combining with robust demand buoyed up by lifestyle buyers helping to support values, according to agent Strutt & Parker. The average price of arable land was £9,300/acre – the same as the average over the past five years – and with the average price of pasture at £7,200/acre. Matthew Sudlow, head of the firm’s estates and farm agency, said: “In the second half of 2020 we saw strong interest in residential farms and estates, particularly in the south and west of England, from buyers seeking a change in lifestyle as a result of Covid-19. Rollover buyers, along with private investors, continue to be active in many regions, viewing farmland as a safe, long-term investment. We have also had an increased number of enquiries from overseas.” Across England, just under 54,000 acres were publicly marketed in 2020, the lowest amount on the agent’s records. In the East, the volume of land publicly marketed actually rose to 11,100 acres in 2020 from 8,600 acres in the previous year, although it remained 30 per cent below the five-year average. With the Brexit deal signed and the Agriculture Bill set to become law, landowners have a clearer picture of the future but the volume of land on the market is expected to remain tight in the short term.

MBO at Essex based civil engineering firm

Essex-based, MDS Civil Engineering has been acquired by its management team, Darren Chaston, Richard Pullen and Matthew Pratt. Forward Corporate Finance acted as lead advisor to the management team who acquired the Halstead-based business from its founder, Roy Marfleet. Founded in 2000, MDS has grown to be one of the region’s leading specialist groundworks and civil engineering contractors. Operating from a purpose-built facility in Halstead, the firm employs around 150 people, working on contracts from £100k to £15 million. The firm operates mainly in the housing sector, working for the region’s largest developers - including Bellway, Redrow, Cala, Linden, Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon - and has a good order book for 2021 and beyond. Arbuthnot Commercial Asset Based Lending provided the funding for the deal with a mix of asset-based lending and cash-flow facilities. MDS Civil Engineerig managing director Darren Chaston, said: “Forward have been beside us all the way through the transaction, explaining everything as we went along. They raised the funding for us and their practical approach enabled us to deal with all the hurdles that came along, keeping the transaction moving”.

Rob Dukelow-Smith, director Forward Corporate Finance, said: “This was a complex transaction involving a corporate restructuring as well as the MBO. We are delighted to have helped a great management team to become business owners and wish them every success in the future”.

Acquisitions planned after MBO at precision engineering business

A management buyout of Cambs-based engineering company Precise Component Manufacture (PCML) has been completed after the business has doubled in size over the past four years. Total Capital is providing £17m of equity and debt and will take an 85% equity stake to back the business and allow the exit of retiring shareholders. With five manufacturing sites in East Anglia, PCML manufactures complex custom components and assemblies R&D-intensive industries, particularly the bio-tech and medical sectors, and has seen resilient trading over the past year. The business has  increased turnover from £6.5m in 2016 to £13m last year and further growth is planned with acquisitions to meet its aim to become the UK’s leading biomedical science manufacturing hub. Paul Brown, partner at Total Capital who led the deal, said: “This forward-looking, agile engineering business is serving some of the most exciting developments in the UK biomedical space as well as innovations in other sectors.”

Chris Wilson, head of corporate finance at KPMG in Cambridge who advised on the deal, said: "Following the global events of the last year, we are seeing lots of M&A activity across all parts of the life sciences sector at the moment – attracting lots of private equity and venture capital interest.  This is positive news for the East of England region which has a growing global reputation for producing some of the most innovative and exciting businesses in this space.’’

5G brings faster broadband speeds to Ipswich

Ipswich has become the first town in Suffolk to receive 5G broadband on its network after EE switched on the service last week. Ipswich is one of 13 new towns to receive 5G through EE across the country and the service has now expanded to 125 towns and cities since it was launched in May 2019. Jane Thomas, BT Group regional lead for the East of England, said: “It’s fantastic that Ipswich has become the first town in Suffolk to receive 5G on EE’s network, bringing faster speeds and more reliable connections for people in the area. …. It will also bring significant benefits for businesses, and those who rely on fast and low latency connections, such as gamers.”

Separately, the Port of Felixstowe will be the largest UK port to deploy 5G technology and the Internet of Things to boost productivity, efficiency and safety. Using a 5G private network installed by Three UK, the port’s installation has been chose as part of the government’s 5G trials and testbeds programme.

Ipswich-based tiles business sold for £6 million

An Ipswich-based tiles specialist Total Tiles has been sold to online building supplies group CMOstores.com group for £6 million. Law firm Birketts advised Total Tiles shareholders Andy Moore and his team on the sale of the firm, which set up in 2006. It has grown to have storage facilities of over 62 000 sq ft over two warehouses supplying bathroom, kitchen, floor and wall tiles and underfloor heating with online delivery across the UK. Mark Pinder, partner at Birketts, said: “This acquisition is excellent news for both Total Tiles and CMOstores.com and we wish them the best for the future.”

Total Tiles’ Andy Moore added: “…. Myself and the shareholders at Total Tiles are very grateful for the excellent service and advice from Mark, Nick and the Birketts team. Their insight and experience made the whole transaction seamless.” CMOstores.com was advised by Ward Hadaway.

Separately, Birketts has announced East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) will be the firm-wide chosen charity for 2021. The firm is committed to raising the £35,100 annual salary of a Clinical Nurse Specialist through its fundraising efforts in 2021.

See Profile Birketts

Demand for warehouse/logistics space set to remain buoyant

Demand for warehouse space is expected to continue at a level high level in 2021, according to Bidwells. Patrick Stanton, head of logistics and industrial at the property agent, said: “The migration to internet shopping will continue. However, with only two units available over 100,000 sq ft across the region, we expect short-term supply issues to limit take up numbers for 2021. This will mean occupiers need to consider pre-lets and pre-sales if they are to secure representation or expansion within the area”. Bidwells completed nearly 3.3 m sq ft of big box deals (larger than 100,000 sq ft) across the region last year, exceeding the 2019 level by almost 1.75m sq ft.

Financial services firm hosts tax simplification event

Scrutton Bland hosted an event with the Office of Tax Simplification last week to enable a group of its clients to discuss and provide direct feedback on the latest capital gains tax review. The first part of the OTS report was published last November, with the second part due this spring.  Jason Fayers, managing partner at Scrutton Bland, said: “We are always keen to make the process of giving tax advice to our clients as simple and straightforward as possible. Engaging with the OTS in this event has given both us and our clients a means of expressing our various views to them – whatever they may be.” The digital event on 12 January was initiated by Scrutton Bland, and was attended by Bill Dodwell, tax director of the OTS and Mark Pickard, senior policy adviser of the OTS, together with Jason Fayers and Gavin Birchall, tax partner at Scrutton Bland.

See Profile Scrutton Bland

Norwich-based agency strengthens its digital offer with new recruits

Norwich-based design and PR agency, FOUR, has strengthened its digital and PR offering with two new hires, both with over a decade’s experience in communications. Sophie Lynn (photo, left) joins as social media & community manager with wide  knowledge on growing and producing social platforms and digital presence, having worked at ITV, agencies and running her own social media management company. Danielle Sparks (right) specialises in travel, tourism and consumer PR, and has worked for award-winning agencies and in-house for clients, including Pensthorpe Natural Park, Newmarket Racecourses and Potters Resort. The hires follow client wins at FOUR, including becoming the full service marketing agency for Chantry Place in Norwich, which has included the rebranding of the shopping centre from Chapelfield. FOUR managing director, Peter Treglown, said: “Like for virtually every business, 2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for FOUR. However, we have been working hard to attract new clients and have won some amazing business, which has enabled us to bring in our fantastic new talent to help us strengthen our offering, particularly on the digital side.”

Cambridge tech firm plays key role in protecting frontline staff

Cambridge company Domino Printing is using its coding and marking technology to play a key role in protecting front-line workers and their patients from Covid. Domino Printing’s state-of-the-art equipment is being used worldwide to mark important information onto face masks and PPE, to maximise efficacy and protection for key workers and their patients. The company’s award-winning printers and water-based inks are delivering high quality coding to the healthcare and pharma industries for essential items. Sharon Viccars, internal communications executive at Domino, said: “As a business, we are proud to play our part in protecting key workers and their patients as we battle the Covid-19 pandemic. Using PPE and facemasks that are marked with accurate data which provides clear information about the product is an important element in ensuring everyone’s safety.

Briefly...

Professor Ross Renton has been appointed as principal of the new Anglia Ruskin University Peterborough and will take up the role in February. Construction work on the new £30 million university – a partnership between the Cambs and Peterborough Combined Authority, Peterborough City Council and Anglia Ruskin University – began at the Embankment site in December. Prof Renton is currently senior pro vice chancellor at the University of Worcester.

Anglian Water is launching 38 new apprenticeships to encourage people to consider working in the utilities industry. The water company has a big need science and engineering skills in its workforce, and offers apprentices the chance to work and learn simultaneously.

Penn Commercial has let two units at The Chandlery, Deben Wharf in Woodbridge for use as an interior design store, Happiness at Home, and a wine bar and restaurant, The Boathouse, on a 10-year lease. The Chandlery is part of the site of the previous Whisstocks boatyard on the River Deben.

PJA, a transport planning, placemaking and engineering consultancy, is opening a new office in Cambridge to serve the East of England region where it says major investment is creating high demand for development infrastructure and transport planning solutions. It will be led by new appointments Mike Salter and Jack Gray.

ABP’s ports in Southampton and East Anglia have been recognised by the Diversity in Maritime Charter for implementing initiatives to attract a more diverse workforce. Twenty volunteers from across the business helped create an action plan for further improvement, which the company is hoping to build on for its other locations.