Thursday 22nd April 2021
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 30/03/2021

‘Energy cluster renaissance’ launched at Port of Lowestoft with £25m investment

Port operator ABP has unveiled ambitious plans for the Port of Lowestoft which it believes will help give a competitive edge to companies in the Southern North Sea energy sector and the wider region. Over the next five years, ABP will develop the Lowestoft Eastern Energy Facility, involving significant upgrades to marine facilities at the port’s Outer Harbour and new infrastructure to meet the sector’s current and future demands and ensure it can accommodate the next generation of offshore support vessels. The first phase will involve a £25 million investment centred on the Outer Harbour to provide 360m of berthing space to handle three service operation vessels and up to eight acres of flexible storage with a marshalling area. It will also create around 5,000 sq ft of new office space with quayside access. It will also provide a suitable site for operations & maintenance and a quayside for construction support. Andrew Harston, ABP director for Wales and short sea ports, said: “The Port of Lowestoft already plays a key role in supporting the local economy, contributing £30m annually and supporting over 580 local jobs. …” He added: “The LEEF project has the potential to attract many supply chain companies to Lowestoft and create an energy cluster renaissance, bringing new jobs and prosperity to the area and supporting the substantial and strategically important investments being made in Offshore Windfarm developments off the Suffolk and Norfolk coast.”

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said: “Lowestoft is strategically well placed to benefit from the wide range of opportunities available in the Southern North Sea, which include one of the largest clusters of offshore wind farms in the world, rich fishing grounds and gas fields in which to store carbon.

Separately, research from the Offshore Wind Industry Council shows that the number of people working in direct and indirect jobs in the industry in the UK is set to rise from 26,000 currently to over 69,800 by 2026.

Business confidence jumps ahead of ’economy reopening’

The prospect of an easing in lockdown restrictions has triggered a 20 point jump in business confidence in the East of England to 12 per cent and prompted more firms to plan to recruit staff, according to a survey from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking. Its business barometer survey also showed that firm’s confidence in their own business prospects rose by 21 points at 16 per cent. A net balance of 5 per cent of firms in the region expect to increase staff levels over the next year, up nine points on February. Every region in the UK saw improved confidence. Dave Atkinson, regional director for the East of England at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “The confidence levels recorded in our region this month are the highest seen for a year and, as we mark the first anniversary of lockdown, it’s encouraging to see firms being buoyed by the imminent reopening of the economy.”

Bank launches initiative to raise fraud awareness after surge in business scams

Barclays has teamed up with ex-Norwich City and Cambridge United footballer and tv presenter Dion Dublin to raise awareness of the danger of fraud and scams after the bank’s research showed a 31 per cent increase in business scams in January and February, compared to last year. Impersonation scams were the most common tactic used to target businesses in 2020 (44 per cent) and the figures more than doubled in the second half, compared with the first six months. The 52,000 property and construction SMEs in the East of England are particularly at risk; nationally almost a quarter of scams are in the sector, each costing an average of £4,110. Dion Dublin (photo, right) said: “I’ve experienced fraudulent activity before, with criminals first trying to take £400 and then £1,600 out of my business account. Offenders know small business owners are time-poor and take advantage of busy schedules to see if they can get away with scamming people. “

John Heaver, Barclays head of business banking fraud, said: ““It’s incredibly important that business owners and their staff are aware of the different type of scams that can occur and remain vigilant at all times. The vast majority of scams could be prevented by taking simple steps such as double checking payment details with a source you know is genuine.”

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Go ahead for new industrial park near Peterborough

Outline planning permission has been granted for a major new industrial park near Peterborough. Trebor Developments and partner, Hillwood, with landowner Church Commissioners for England, have agreed terms to develop the 127 acre Red Brick Farm site in Peterborough, which will be promoted as Flagship Park. Infrastructure and phase one works are set to start on site this summer for a wide range of industrial space (B1/B2/B8), from 20,000 to over 650,000 sq ft, either in speculative phases or pre-let/sales phases. Terms have been agreed for the first major deal. Trebor managing partner Bob Tattrie said: “This major new site is exciting and will provide the opportunity to deliver a wide range of quality industrial units in the Peterborough region.”

Suffolk-based biotech firm raises £2.3m for new test to combat bovine TB

Suffolk-based PBD Bio, which has developed a rapid test that could be a ‘game changer’ in combatting TB in livestock, has secured a £2.3m investment to help take its product to market. The funding will allow the company, which is based at Thurston, near Bury, to take its Actiphage® test through to validation by the World Organisation for Animal Health, enabling it to be adopted internationally. Bovine TB has resulted in the slaughter of over 300,000 cattle in Britain and cost the taxpayer £500m. Mark Hammond, CEO of PBD Biotech, said: “It has been shown on-farm that when Actiphage is used within a disease management strategy it is possible to eliminate bovine TB from a herd and maintain a disease-free status. There is a significant international unmet need for a rapid test like Actiphage; with this funding we will be able to perform the validation studies required for regulatory approval and drive commercialisation of the technology.” The funding came from a consortium led by fund managers Mercia and the Foresight Group, which were both investing through the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF).

Separately, Cambs-based fintech firm Monavate has secured seed funding of £5 million from a major US institutional investor in one of the largest seed funding rounds for a UK firm in the sector in the past year. The funding will be invested in Monavate’s financial technology platform, allowing companies to launch financial products quickly, easily and cost-effectively. The firm, based at Duxford Business Park, also plans to increase its 20-strong workforce and accelerate its global expansion.

 

Essex-based construction group moves to employee ownership

Law firm Birketts has assisted Essex-based Readie Construction Ltd with a transition to 100 per cent employee ownership for an undisclosed sum. Established in 2008, privately owned Readie specialises in high value commercial, industrial and retail projects and generates an average turnover of £200m pa. It will be joining a growing number of UK firms opting for employee ownership. Readie executive chairman and majority shareholder Stuart Read said: “Readie has made its name forming lasting relationships and so it is important to us that we reward the employees who have been so integral to our success. We are confident that our dynamic and experienced team will benefit from this restructure. Our special thanks go to the Birketts team for their proactive approach, efficiency and stellar client service.”

Lisa Hayward, head of employee incentives at Birketts, said: “For companies like Readie who want to safeguard the legacy created by its workforce, employee ownership offers a unique chance to reward those who helped build the organisation from the ground up.”  We have no doubts that moving to an employee ownership trust will boost job satisfaction and employee wellbeing amongst the Readie workforce – no small feat in the wake of an uncertain year for business.” Birketts team was led by Lisa Hayward (legal director, head of employee incentives), Adam Jones, Ozan Zorba, Emily Broadrick and Heidi Jones (corporate) with support from Xiaolei Liu, Jessica Kilkelly and Kirsty Scripps (employee incentives).

Separately, Birketts has advised the shareholders of Cambridge-based global chemical distributor, Noahs Ark Chemicals, on the sale of its shares to sustainable energy company Count Energy Trading BV. Formed in 2001, family company Noahs Ark Chemicals supplies thousands of tonnes of chemicals annually to Europe and around the world and has a turnover of over £58m, Noahs Ark and offices in Cambridge, Belgium and Switzerland. Birketts advised majority shareholders and siblings, led by Dr Bharat Bhardwaj and Rashmi Bhardwaj in the share sale of three separate companies.

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New Ipswich hq development completed for travel and cruise company

Artisan (UK) Developments has completed phase 2 of Fred. Olsen’s new hq building development in Ipswich. Following the completion of a new building for the cruise and travel company last summer, the second phase involved the refurbishment of an existing office building. Now combined into a single hq, the finished building provides 8,860 sq ft of high quality office space over three floors for 400 staff, plus a basement car park and more external parking. The project will allow Fred. Olsen to rationalise its various offices in Ipswich into a single location. The company is confident that the easing of travel restrictions will bring a renewed enthusiasm for cruise holidays - particularly on its recently acquired ships Bolette and Borealis - and that its new hq will enable it to respond to the predicted growth in guest numbers. Artisan managing director, Michael Eyres said: “Clearly the lockdown restrictions of the past twelve months have presented us with some unique challenges in terms of working safely while continuing to progress the project, but I am pleased we have been able to complete the development that began in May 2019 ahead of programme and I am delighted that Artisan were able to partner with Fred. Olsen to realise the development’s potential.”

Belinda Mindell, chief financial officer for the Fred. Olsen companies, said: “The completion of our new headquarters in Ipswich is a big milestone for the Suffolk-based Fred. Olsen companies. When we return to office working, we will do so with our teams together under one roof, in a brilliant new space for us all.”

See Profile Artisan (UK) Developments

Directors urged to ‘make the most’ of extension to insolvency measures

Directors of Covid-hit businesses are being urged to make the most of the time granted by the government’s extension of temporary insolvency measures until June to plan for the future. R3 Eastern is calling on company directors to use the extra time to plan for when these measures and other government support schemes end, and to seek advice about the options open to them to address their financial issues. R3 Eastern chair Alistair Bacon, of AMB Law in the region, said: "The government’s decision to extend the CIG Act temporary insolvency measures will be a welcome boost for firms which are struggling as a result of the pandemic. It also provides directors of these firms with more time to plan for when these measures – and government support initiatives like the furlough scheme – end, and we urge them to make the most of them."

Garden centre acquisition

Cherry Lane Garden Centres, part of Norwich-based retail chain QD Group, has acquired Langford Nurseries & Garden Centre in Beds. The acquisition is part of an expansion strategy and takes its total to 15 garden centres across East Anglia, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Nick Rubins, chief executive of the QD Group, said: “The latest acquisition of Langford Garden Centre is another step in the ongoing growth and success of Cherry Lane.” The garden centre will be known as Langford Garden Centre by Cherry Lane and all 28 staff will be retained.

Professional indemnity claims by architects on the rise

Architects made 38 per cent of the professional indemnity claims submitted last year to Ipswich insurance broker PolicyBee. Insurers have grown nervous of the sector in the light of failed basement conversions or concerns over cladding on buildings since the Grenfell Tower disaster. Architecture businesses make up just 6 per cent of all policies and 10 percentof total value at broker PolicyBee, yet made over a third of professional indemnity last year. Yasin Akdemir, architects’ insurance specialist at PolicyBee, said: “Unfortunately, we expect challenges surrounding PI insurance to remain for a few years yet. As well as rising premiums, policy renewals are another area of concern for architects as some insurers are ceasing to provide cover for the industry.”

Law firm to introduce facial recognition technology

Essex-based Fisher Jones Greenwood is one of the first UK law firms to introduce facial recognition technology to streamline its identity verification process for clients. As Covid has made it difficult for new clients to provide ID documents, FJG is launching the new technology to make the process easier and more efficient. The technology uses biometric and liveness detection to complete identity authentication and allows individuals to complete verification checks at home. Andrew Morgan (right), learning & compliance officer at FJG, said: “Over the last 12 months, working remotely we have been looking at ways to meet our clients changing needs. The new facial recognition software we are introducing speeds up the on-boarding process in an innovative and straightforward way”.

Managing partner Paula Cameron said: “ The introduction of facial recognition technology takes away the need for face-to-face contact whilst still offering an excellent client experience”.

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New franchise consulting appointment

Ashtons Franchise Consulting has expanded with the appointment of consultant Phil Mowat (right). Prior to joining, he was UK country director for Expense Reduction Analysts where he led and managed a 100+ network of franchisees through the Covid pandemic. He said: “I am a huge advocate for franchising. Simply put, I want to be see more businesses grow via the franchising model. I want to ensure that businesses looking into franchising are receiving the best advice and taking the right approach in order to make it happen for them.”

Ashtons Franchise Consulting’s managing consultant Nick Williams said: “In the last five years AFC has seen significant growth, even through the pandemic, so we are delighted to strengthen our team with Phil Mowat.”

See Profile Ashtons Legal

Ipswich-based drink solutions firm launches in Ireland

Ipswich-based Liquidline, which supplies and maintains commercial coffee machines and other dispensers to organisations across the UK, is launching the business into Ireland. The family-run business has showrooms in London and Manchester, a depot in Yeovil, alongside its head office at Holywells Court in Ipswich. Managing director Gavin Pooley said: "2020 was a difficult year for all businesses, including ours, which relies on having people in commercial premises using our machines….we pivoted our business towards touch-free coffee and water machines, home working packs, e-commerce and even a coffee subscription box. Now that the vaccination is being rolled out, we want to get back to doing what we do best, providing high quality drink solutions to businesses throughout the UK and now in Ireland.” The new Irish team is based in central Dublin.