Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 12th, May

We now live and work simultaneously in two worlds - the physical and the virtual - and investment in both is essential for our future growth and prosperity.

In the last few days, issues at the top of the election agenda have been Brexit, as always, and immigration.

But let's also think about things nearer to home. Investment in domestic infrastructure is critical. Not only in transport and skills but connectivity in the wider sense of a digital infrastructure. 

Productivity gap

We recently published the results of the chamber's Quarterly Economic Survey and spoke about the productivity gap in the north. 

We have the energy and enthusiasm and know-how to close that gap but we are also being held back by a lack of physical and virtual (digital) infrastructure investment.

According to the Institute for Public Policy research, the current national infrastructure pipeline shows that there is a £1,515 per capita gap in projected spending between London and the North.

Digital slow lane

18% of UK businesses don’t have a reliable internet connection. When you consider how much that affects productivity, it's unacceptable in 2017. 

I can speak from personal experience. Internet coverage in my home, just a couple of miles from Liverpool city centre, is frankly non-existent. Less than 2mb, means that I rely on the 4G network, to stay in touch, and follow up with members when I am at home. 

At a recent event with the Chamber, the city’s elected Mayor Joe Anderson asked our members to tell him what they needed to enable them to grow their businesses. 

A lack of decent digital connectivity was one of the major issues raised.

Port investment 

Peel Ports has put its money where its mouth is by investing £400m in the new Liverpool2 deep water port facility.

It has the potential to revolutionise the UK’s logistics market by attracting many of the imported goods that currently arrive at Southern ports to instead come in through the Mersey.

We could see thousands of jobs created in the logistics sector across the North West but for that to work we need a transport infrastructure that is able to cope with this massive surge in freight traffic.

That means investment in both the road and rail networks.

Capacity call

Sometimes the question is asked: Would we prefer the HS2 high-speed rail link to London, or the HS3 line across the North of England? The obvious answer is we need both.

We need every inch of extra rail capacity we can get our hands on.

I think many of us would agree that when we get on a train we need three things. 1. A seat 2. Wifi 3. A cup of coffee. Getting there quicker isn't necessarily a problem, just get us there on time. If the time spent travelling can be spent comfortably and productively, then we as business people will use that time gratefully to work without the normal interruptions of busy office life. 

In the north however, our journey times to our closest cities are appalling.  A journey of 80 miles can take longer than getting to London. I often ask members to imagine an infrastructure such as the London Tube, with its 250 miles of track being placed over Manchester, with connections to Liverpool to the West and Sheffield to the East. The connectivity encourages business growth, creates jobs and allows people to choose where they live and work. It connects our northern population of 15 million and if you think about it, some whole countries don't even have a population that big! Now that's a powerhouse economy- a northern powerhouse! 

The election manifesto for the British Chambers of Commerce calls on the next Government to “revolutionise” the UK’s physical and digital infrastructure.

Here in the Liverpool city region we would add that the revolution needs to focus on the areas where it is needed the most - here in the North.

Leave a comment

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 05th, May

One down and one to go - elections that is.

We offer our congratulations to Labour’s Steve Rotheram, who has been elected as Liverpool City Region’s first Metro Mayor.

As existing MP for Walton who was born and bred in the city, Steve knows the region’s strengths - and the challenges we face.

It is also encouraging that he has experience of running a business, so is familiar with the issues our entrepreneurs and wealth-creators face on a daily basis.

Key areas

Earlier this year, the influential think tank, Centre for Cities, identified three key areas on which the new mayor can “hit the ground running”.

The same priorities have been identified over some time, training, school standards and transport infrastructure, by business and civic leaders. 

Skills gap

The training and skills gap is holding back companies across the UK, and particularly here in our own city region. They are a barrier to increasing productivity.  As identified in our latest Quarterly Economic Survey, firms are still being held back by a shortage of skilled people.

We need more high-level apprenticeships as a matter of urgency and I hope the new city region Mayor makes this a top priority.

Schools standards

We also know that standards in our schools are below average in some parts of our region.

Late last year, Heather Duggan, headteacher at Archbishop Blanch in Liverpool, spoke at one of the chamber's breakfast networking events.

She said: “We are trying to teach some young people who, when they first arrive in the school, don’t even know how to use a knife and fork… just getting them to a point where they leave us with qualifications is a huge achievement.”

Heather’s revelation stirred a shocked response with a number of people in the room. It is clear that raising educational standards also needs to be at the top of the agenda.

Getting around 

Thriving cities require connectivity and at the chamber we have long championed this issue.

Not only do we need national and international connections - access to HS2, an air link with Heathrow - we also need drastic improvements in the northern transport system, a Crossrail for the North. 

The Connectivity of the cities of the north will drive demand, stimulate jobs and grow the economy. Right now as we look towards exiting the European Union we have the opportunity to press ahead with vital infrastructure investments. The north needs to pull its weight to make the UK a strong trading partner. We need to take the steps to re-balance the economy, so that our northern powerhouse becomes reality. 

There's a big job on. It will take grit and determination and a city region which pulls together. In the words of George Osborne at the British Chambers of Commerce Conference "we have the makings of a revolution" let's own it. 

Leave a comment

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 28th, Apr

This week we have published the results of our latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) and you can see the report here.

In summary, it showed a mixed picture with the positivity of a relatively strong performance for city region firms in the first three months of this year tempered by the expectation of falling turnover and profits in the coming 12 months.

The survey was, of course, carried out prior to th e announcement of the General Election, set to take place on June 8. It will be interesting to see how that impacts on our next QES.

In the report, I have described the indices around business confidence for the coming 12 months as stark, though the intention from businesses to continue investing is much more heartening.

Overall it could be said to be a confusing and inconclusive picture, which perfectly sums up the times were are now living in.

From the mid-1990s up until late 2007 local, regional and national economies were on a long upward trajectory.

There were almost certainly things we weren’t happy with, but we can now very much look back on that period as ‘the good old days’.

It was perhaps fortunate timing that much of Liverpool’s economic renaissance from the dark days of the 1970s and 80s took place during that period. It gave us a resilience for the tough times that followed.

Certainly Liverpool One, which has been transformational for the city centre, was completed in the nick of time.

Since then we have endured a recession, a coalition Government that went full-throttle on austerity and then had to apply the brakes, a Referendum which to many peoples’ dismay saw us vote to leave the EU, and now a General Election.

It has been a terribly unsettling time for businesses large and small.

So what is remarkable is that, amid all the chaos, upheaval and uncertainty, many companies remain upbeat and optimistic for the future.

We know from our own export team how many local businesses are seeing Brexit as a golden opportunity to explore new markets.

There are more tough times ahead - more austerity, protracted Brexit negotiations, political and social upheaval at home and abroad - but the clear message from our members is we are ready to meet the challenges ahead. So bring it on.

Leave a comment

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 21st, Apr

With all the excitement over the announcement of the General Election in June, you could be forgiven for forgetting that we have another important election coming up, and soon!

Just next month, Thursday May 4, the Liverpool City Region will vote for our first Metro Mayor.

So, that’s two of the most momentous votes in a generation taking place within five weeks of each other.

And with new power comes new hope and new opportunity, and there can be no better time to make our case for significant infrastructure investment into the city region so we can give our economy a turbo boost.

Period of calm

Businesses like certainty and they prefer a settled economic and political landscape.

And while the run-up to both ballots creates some temporary uncertainty, the outcome may just provide a period of political and economic calm - something we have badly needed since the financial crash almost a decade ago.

This General Election is without doubt a one issue vote. Whatever the outcome, the government of the day will have a clear mandate from the people.

New opportunities

Business confidence in the Liverpool City Region is at an all-time high. Bold, strategic, and steadfast leadership will be required to ensure it continues.  The new Metro-Mayor will need to be ready to hit the ground running to establish strong links with the newly elected government, with a clear and compelling case for investment into the city region and the wider Northern Powerhouse at the ready. A Crossrail for the North must be top of that list.

Strong leadership

Earlier this year, Sir Howard Bernstein stepped down as chief executive of Manchester City Council after almost two decades of dynamic and transformational leadership.

He put aside partisan politics and forged strong links with both Labour and Conservative Governments and Manchester has reaped the rewards of that. We need our new Metro Mayor to have the same impact.

Both elections have the potential to have a profound effect on our regions economy for years to come so, whoever you vote for, make your choice an informed one.

Leave a comment

As we enter a new tax year, I find it disconcerting to see that the cost of doing business is rising.

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 07th, Apr

As we enter a new tax year, I find it disconcerting to see that the cost of doing business is rising. 

At a time when the need for business creation and growth has never been more urgent, we make starting and running a venture ever more expensive and complex.

The only bright spots seem to be the reduction in corporation tax and the u-turn on the rise to National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed.

Everywhere else we look, costs are rising. Companies of all sizes will now see the introduction of the Apprenticeship levy, Immigration Skills Charge, a new National Living Wage and pensions auto-enrolment.

Added to that you have a significant rise in input costs caused by the weaker pound.

It’s a simple equation. When the costs of doing business rise something has got to give.  Either firms will pass on those extra costs for customers, or they will be reluctant to hire staff. Hardly a great recipe for growing an economy.

I have, for a long time, urged for a review of the business rates system. It is fundamentally flawed and imposing pressure on businesses every day.  

But any hope of a review is some way off, and those small firms are hurting now.

The Government’s Making Tax Digital initiative, will require almost all companies to file tax returns online four times a year – which means another investment of both time and finances for business owners.

Is it any wonder this month has been designated Stress Awareness Month!

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We see every day among our chamber members and in our fledgling Spark-Up entrepreneurs, how the spirit of enterprise is alive and well in our city region.

In sectors such as a visitor economy and creative & digital we are continuing to see growth, innovation and collaboration. Our last Quarterly Economic Survey shows business confidence in the city region is at an all time high. 

Now is the time to support businesses to grow and scale. Give entrepreneurs the right help and encouragement and in return they will turbo-charge our economy and make us all more prosperous.

Jenny Stewart

Leave a comment

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 31st, Mar

Getting specifics out of a politician, particularly during an election campaign, can be tricky and hustings events can quickly descend into soundbite bingo.

This week Liverpool & Sefton Chambers, in partnership with think tank Centre for Cities, hosted just such an event as part of the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayoral election campaign.

The five candidates, in alphabetical order - Tony Caldeira (Conservative), Carl Cashman (Lib Dem), Tom Crone (Green Party), Tabitha Morton (Women’s Equality), and Steve Rotheram (Labour) - all took part in a lively discussion at the chamber here in the city centre.

Genuine passion

There’s an old saying that politicians ‘campaign in poetry and govern in prose’ and, as you would expect, there was no shortage of abstract concepts and snappy soundbites.

However, to give credit to the candidates, there was plenty of meat in there, too. I think they all spoke from the heart and all are standing with a genuine commitment to public service. I saw no political careerists on the panel.

I spoke at the beginning of the session and I talked about how this election means we have the makings of a revolution here in the Liverpool city region.

Connectivity is key

And I was heartened to see that the discussion was at its liveliest when the panel addressed what I think is one of the single most important issues for our city region - connectivity.

We want inward investment, we want a well-educated, highly-skilled workforce doing high-value, good paying jobs, we want our port to be a world leader in global shipping once again.

But we cannot achieve those things if people cannot get from one part of our region to another quickly and with the minimum of fuss or we cannot move goods from the port swiftly to other parts of the country.

Carl Cashman told how a friend travelled from Southport to Prescot to help him with his campaign.

“It took him longer to make that journey than it would have done for him to fly from Liverpool to Spain,” he said.

Yes, it really can be that bad.

Tony Caldeira talked about his efforts in lobbying Government to put the infrastructure in place to allow both HS2 and HS3, or Northern Powerhouse Rail, to go ahead.

Steve Rotheram painted a stark picture of how for every £1 spent on rail infrastructure in the North, London and the South East receives £6.

“London has Crossrail and what we need is Crossrail for the North,” he added.

Tom Crone said the money spent on HS2 and HS3 would be better utilised on making lots of smaller improvements to the local transport network.

And Tabitha Morton pointed out, quite correctly, that it was more often women performing the lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs in our region who were more dependent on public transport than any other group.

This fed into her wider point that too many of the big decisions were being made by “groups of white men behind closed doors”.

A clear message

There is a good deal of confusion among the business community and the wider city region population about what the City Region Mayor will be and how he or she will work with the existing local authority leaders.

Our event went some way to offering clarity on this. The candidates need to work harder between now and election day in May to outline to people how the role will directly affect their lives.

This, as one of the candidates pointed out, could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our region. We must make the most of it.

Leave a comment

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 24th, Mar

This week, I went on record on behalf of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce to urge the RMT Union to withdraw its intention to strike on Grand National day.

I understand some of the very real concerns raised about the proposed introduction of driver-only operated trains on Merseyrail. I also fully respect the right of workers to take action on issues about which they feel strongly.

But, on the biggest day of the year for Liverpool's visitor economy when we have a global TV audience of 600m people, the timing could not be worse.

Clearly there are fundamental and entrenched positions on both sides of this dispute – but it seems to me that those could be best resolved through sensible and considered negotiation.

Using the biggest day of Liverpool’s sporting and social calendar as a negotiating tactic is disappointing, to say the least.

The Grand National offers a massive annual boost to hundreds of businesses across the entire region.

This action by the RMT will not only inconvenience residents and visitors but sends totally the wrong message at a time when we are working hard to market ourselves in an international arena.

And this does open up a wider discussion around Liverpool's global identity.

We present Liverpool as a forward-thinking city, a place on the up, a location that understands and utilises technology and digital advancements to do business better - somewhere that is prime for inward investment.

But in fact, in terms of productivity, there is a lot of work to be done. The UK lags behind Germany by 35% and output in the North West is further behind again.

The North-South divide shows no sign of shrinking, there are undeniable challenges around improving productivity in the North – and it is time business leaders rose to those challenges.

The rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’ – freelancers, short-term workers and independent contractors lured by the idea of more flexible working – is threatening the retention of talent within our workplaces. But what can we do about it?

Simple measures can make a huge difference.

Let’s look at upskilling, life-long learning, financial incentivisation. Lets alter our working practices, lose the colloquial minsdet and accept change. Lets scale-up, create jobs and win clients.

Let’s really think of the bigger picture and start looking out instead of in. Only then can we really, really begin to compete.

Leave a comment

Posted by Kurt B Potter

Growth Executive for Grant Thornton

Wed 22nd, Mar

Do you need to look externally to raise finance for your business to grow?

Angel investment is an important source of early-stage finance for ambitious founders looking to build scalable businesses. But what should you look for in an angel investor and what makes them tick?

More than money Raising investment from a business angel provides so much more than just access to growth finance. The right angel investor will be a trusted business partner, a mentor, an advocate and can bring valuable connections to fast track your business’ growth. “The main thing a business owner should look for in an angel investor is someone who supports you and can bring value to your vision, not someone who wants to rewrite your vision” says Michael Blakey, serial angel investor and UK Angel Investor of the year 2015/16. “Don’t be tempted to just think about the short term funding need, you need an investor that is in it for the journey, is used to dealing with pivots, and can support with further finance as the business grows.”

Additionally, be aware that angel investors very rarely invest alone. Over 80% of angel investments closed by Grant Thornton clients involved an angel syndicate. This is consistent with national data on the angel market, presented in the UKBAA Nation of Angels report, which found approximately 7 out of 10 angel investors invest through syndicates in the UK.

Ensure impact

We see so many founders fail to make the most from an opportunity to impress investors. Demand far surpasses supply when it comes to seeking investment, and thorough preparation, research and practice is the difference between standing out and blending into the crowd.

Chris Michael is founder of Swytch, which has created an app that allows multiple phone numbers to be used from a single device. Swytch secured investment from investors James Hilton, CEO of M&C Saatchi Mobile, and serial entrepreneur Neil Hutchinson. However, Chris found he had a lot to learn when pitching to angels.

“We attended lots of events in preparation for meeting investors to learn how to pitch and understand what should and shouldn’t be in a slide deck,” he says. But the biggest way to make an impact? “Personalise your pitch”, says angel investor Michael Blakey. “I get hundreds of approaches from entrepreneurs seeking investment every month and I get so frustrated when emails are addressed “Dear Sir”. It isn’t hard to put my name or personalise a slide deck so I don’t feel I’m getting the same presentation everyone gets.”

Pitching to an investor is essentially a sales process, and it is really the only time your investor will ever be on the receiving end of how you conduct yourself professionally. “We will assume that how you communicate with us is how you will conduct yourself with customers”, says Michael. It is crucial to demonstrate you are professional and competent. Content is key There are many ‘do’s and don’ts’ when it comes to pitching for finance.

When seeking funding for Swytch, Chris found that, as well as wanting to understand his vision and route to growth, angels he met with were most interested in the people behind the business. “You need to talk about your team. They want to know who is running your company and have confidence you can achieve your forecasts” Chris says.

I don’t want to know how great a product is, I want to understand the market opportunity and the commercial terms of the deal for me. A common mistake we see during pitch events is business owners confusing the investment pitch with a product pitch. An investor does not need to understand every detail about your product/service, but they do want to know how you will make money, who your customers are and what is in it for them.

“I back entrepreneurs who understand how I want to make money”, says Michael. “I don’t want to know how great a product is, I want to understand the market opportunity and the commercial terms of the deal for me.” And don’t even think about using the word “conservative” when presenting your financials!

During his early meetings, Chris learnt first-hand the importance of giving investors information on the addressable market for his business. “You do get feedback from investors and it’s important to listen. I learnt that investors will not believe that there is no one else trying to do the same thing as you. So we needed to be clearer about who we were aiming for and how we were going to reach them.”

Even if you have a breakthrough innovation that no-one else has invented yet, your competition is that consumers continue to use an alternative solution, or they continue to do nothing about the problem you are trying to solve. What’s in it for them? So why do business angels invest?

It is true that there are some investors who invest philanthropically, having made their fortunes and want to give back to the economy or make a social impact. But it is important to understand that the majority of angel investors invest to make money. Yes, they want to be involved in interesting projects and bring value to small businesses, but ultimately they are looking for a financial return.

Entrepreneurs that recognise this and place importance on demonstrating how they can deliver that for investors will go far when pitching for finance. And Michael? “I like the rollercoaster of investing in exciting, growing businesses. There are easier ways I could make money, but they would be a lot less fun!”

Grant Thornton are running a Funding Clinic on Wednesday, 05 April 2017 08:30 - 11:00 at Grant Thornton, Royal Liver Building, Liverpool L3 1PS

This event is free of charge.

For more information contact Kurt B Potter, Growth Executive for Grant Thornton. T +44 (0)20 7728 2826 E kurt.b.potter@uk.gt.com

Read More
Leave a comment

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 17th, Mar

We’ve all met the natural entrepreneurs - the Richard Bransons of this world who start wheeling and dealing before they are old enough to even buy a drink.

However, for most people starting a business can be a daunting leap into the unknown - they need nurturing and encouragement and a belief they are supported.

Through the chamber’s Spark Up accelerator programme we have seen first-hand the transformational effect the right environment can have on an initially nervous and unsure would-be entrepreneur.

In times of austerity, with rafts of people still at the sharp end of spending cuts, the Government have a responsibility to support those taking matters into their own hands – many of whom have been left with little or no other option.

It is why Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget provoked such a reaction from the business community last week.

Proposing to raise National Insurance contributions for self-employed people as well as cutting dividend tax-free allowances may have seemed, on paper, like sound fiscal ideas - but it sent out a terrible message and I can’t help but wonder if The Chancellor had said it out loud before pitching it to the nation?

I’m incredibly proud to operate in Liverpool – it is a city bursting with great business ideas and bold, bright, enterprising people. And in times of economic uncertainty we need entrepreneurs and risk-takers more than ever. Sole traders have the capacity to prosper and create businesses that offer employment and that process is the real engine for growth in our society.

Liverpool accountant and Liverpool Chamber member Peter Taaffe said this week: “I can’t remember the last time a Budget stirred quite so much emotion.”

It’s an apt comment because starting and nurturing your own business is a very emotional journey. When people get past their initial enthusiasm the everyday worries kick in - will I be able to pay my mortgage, support my family, just make ends meet?

But you know, some good could come from the past week. One of the positive things to come from the Budget was a promise to review the business rates system, which is fundamentally broken and needs to be fixed.

Maybe the controversy over the now-scrapped NI rises will spark a wider debate on how we value entrepreneurship in our society.

We need to take a look at business and employment taxation to ensure the system is competitive and equitable - and encourages the entrepreneurial dynamism this city and this country so badly needs.

Jenny Stewart

Leave a comment

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 10th, Mar

This week has been a critical week for the Chamber – National Apprenticeships Week, International Women’s Day and of course, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s first and final Spring Budget.

And let’s talk about that, shall we?

Liverpool & Sefton Chambers, along with British Chambers of Commerce has long been lobbying for business rates reform.

In his Budget, Mr Hammond announced a raft of measures to help businesses fearful of an imminent rise in business rates. This is certainly welcome news.

For a long time now the Chamber has called for a review of the system, which is as I see it, fundamentally broken.

The announced cap for small businesses - coupled with the proposed discount on business rate bills for pub landlords - is at least some sign that Government are beginning to take the issue seriously and feels like the first time in a long time we have had any real sign of change to the system.

The £300m fund set to be made available to councils to allow them to provide discretional relief on a case-by-case basis is further heartening – though counteracted by the rise in National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, which feels out of touch, to say the least.

It was refreshing to hear The Chancellor admit challenges around productivity in the UK, which lags behind other comparable nations. I welcome any motion to improving the UK’s productivity but am determined to see more investment in the North.

It is extraordinary that some days it can take two hours to travel between Liverpool and Manchester - two cities just 35 miles apart.

The £90m that was announced to improve ‘pinch points’ on roads in the North is not a lot of money at all and simply won’t be enough to solve what is an inherent problem that has long been stifling our economic growth.

And on a day that celebrates strong and enterprising women, it was interesting to hear the Chancellors commitment to supporting women and improving gender equality. The £5m ringfenced for ‘returnships’ for women hardly feels adequate.

The elephant in the room though, was the Chancellors evasion of the B-word and the absence of international trade and export.

It is fair to say that the budget was, perhaps more than ever, light on detail. We can only wait and see what will come over the following days and weeks.

 

Jenny

Leave a comment