Coronavirus business update: Latest news across the North West

Graham Stuart

A package of measures, including additional funding, to help businesses in the North of England recover and grow from the impact of coronavirus has been announced by the Government.

The new Export Growth Plan includes 30 new international trade advisors (ITAs) who will provide direct support to small businesses in the Northern Powerhouse region, supplementing the existing support provided to businesses across the UK.

A pilot Export Academy scheme has also been introduced to support smaller businesses in the North to begin their exporting journey.

The academy will deliver a series of activities that will build the capabilities of smaller businesses, creating a new cohort of confident businesses ready to trade.

In addition, a £16.5m Northern Powerhouse Internationalisation Fund for SMEs, will help up to 3,300 small businesses in the Northern Powerhouse region grow their overseas trading and maximise their profits from 2020-2023.

Minister for Exports, Graham Stuart, said: “The Government is negotiating trade deals around the world and we are determined to help UK businesses take advantage of the markets we are opening.

“So, as part of the recovery from coronavirus, I am delighted to announce this funding and support, which will be invaluable to businesses looking to begin or continue their exporting journeys.

“In 2019 we overtook France to become the world’s fifth largest exporter and this package is a statement of our confidence in UK companies to grow the UK as an exporting superpower. The package will ensure businesses are supported from the start, with more funding, more trade advisors and the establishment of the Export Academy to help businesses build back better.”

He added: “As we continue to negotiate improved trading terms with leading countries around the world, it is important to ensure every business can reap the benefits of our free trade agreements.”

Federation of Small Businesses National Chair, Mike Cherry, said: “We welcome these new funds and resources which come at a critical time for small firms who are looking to either expand or begin their trading journeys.

“It’s vital that these new international trade advisors are tasked with focusing small and micro businesses, not just medium-sized ones.

“The smallest businesses often simply don’t have the same logistical financial means, and can be overlooked in favour of firms with louder voices and more resources. FSB will work with the Government to help make this happen.

“By supporting small firms to trade, it means that many businesses will be able to look ahead with confidence to the new trading landscape that awaits us in the coming months.”

These new measures are the latest in a series of measures already announced by DIT since the coronavirus outbreak.

Sector-specific support was outlined for businesses through ‘bounce-back’ plans for the agriculture, food and drink, tech and retail industries.

UK Export Finance (UKEF), the Government’s credit agency, can help businesses grow their overseas trade and build back from the impact of coronavirus.

UKEF is expanding its network of regional export finance managers to help local businesses secure the financing they need to trade internationally by appointing renewable energy specialists to put small businesses at the heart of the global transition to clean energy.

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Helen Lucking

Families across the North West are feeling the effect of COVID-19 on their home environment as law firm Napthens reports a large rise in divorce instructions.

The firm, which offers a range of family law services from offices across Lancashire, Cumbria and Merseyside, saw a 47% increase in new divorce cases opened in September when compared with September 2019.

Helen Lucking, partner and head of family at Napthens, said: “The pandemic has created extra stresses and pressures for every family, and unfortunately for some, that extra strain has been too much for their relationship.

“Being in an unhappy marriage during lockdown has clearly led to a lot of couples reassessing their life situation. It seems many couples are looking to act now to complete a separation and make a new start.

“With the postponement of hundreds of weddings this year, 2020 could become the first year ever where the number of divorces outstrips new marriages.”

With a rise in divorce instructions creating a backlog in the courts, 90% of hearings are now being heard remotely over video or telephone.

Despite this, Napthens is continuing to deal with applications for divorce and assisting clients to finding resolutions in alternative ways, such as mediation or settlements before court proceedings are required.

Figures from Napthens covering the previous three years also show the trend of a low divorce rate in December through the Christmas holidays, but a sharp rise during the following February and March.

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Dr Adrian Wright

Low earners, young people and those already suffering from workplace inequalities are more likely to lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic, according to a leading researcher from the University of Central Lancashire.

However, creative approaches to look at the make-up of jobs and implementing practices such as job sharing and reduced hours can protect more people from being made redundant and help businesses to grow back quicker.

Dr Adrian Wright, director of the Institute of Research into Organisations, Work and Employment at the university, said that businesses which can find ways to avoid redundancies will be in the best shape to recover and grow back stronger.

He said: “We know from our research that the people who are hit the hardest by the pandemic are the people who are already at a disadvantage.

“Young people and women are more likely to work in sectors where the risk of redundancy is higher, such as hospitality, leisure, retail and the cultural sectors, in addition women disproportionately take on much of the unpaid caring roles in the household for children or elderly relatives.

“Unfortunately, the unequal impact of COVID on certain sectors makes their workforce more vulnerable to cuts and redundancies, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Employees are an investment and keeping hold of them through tough times will only make them more worthwhile to your company in the long run.”

He added: “What we learned from the last economic recession was that the businesses who found a way to hold on to their employees were the ones who were able to bounce back quickest when we returned to growth.

“Companies who find creative solutions to reimagine the make-up of work to keep their staff on – from reducing hours and leveraging the Government support schemes, creating job shares so that extra hours can be covered or taking the time to train up staff to prepare for growth in new sectors as well help deal with workplace inequalities.”

The university is providing businesses across Lancashire with a range of support to bounce back stronger through its range of Business at UCLan support programmes and packages.

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Kamran Maqbool

A North West cloud hosting firm has reported 30% growth in revenues as the pandemic pushes more customers to the cloud.

Green Cloud Hosting, which is based in Whitefield, Greater Manchester, said the uplift in demand was triggered by companies that needed to quickly adapt to remote working and ‘rapidly transition’ to the cloud.

The firm, launched in 2011, offers secure remote IT access to businesses across the UK.

Managing director and founder, Kamran Maqbool, said: “When lockdown was announced, overnight people were told to work from home.

“For many companies this meant a rethink about their IT needs and how they could ensure staff could work both remotely and effectively because not everybody had a seamless integration of their IT needs.

“Cloud infrastructure has enabled businesses that rapid transition to the cloud and an acceleration of the digital transformation of their work.

“As a result, they have become flexible and scalable at a time of uncertainty.”

New clients have included Kew Lighting, London Accountants and Partners, FCA UK, OJ fresh, Frontline Health, charity Stepping Stones, Car Lease and Denton Property Law.

Kamran said: “We had signed up new clients before lockdown was announced.

“But like many companies who were unsure about what to do, some of those clients pulled out.

“But as people eased back into a ‘new normal’ those customers returned as they realised they needed the right technology to operate.

“The cloud has been essential for companies and staff across the country and we were able to provide a comprehensive service at a time when they needed us the most.

“Without the prevalence of cloud computing, remote system access and video conferencing capabilities, many people could not work from home.”

Revenues at Green Cloud Hosting have reached £804,000 for the year to September 2020, that’s up 30% on the previous year, as well gross profits of £402,000 and EBITDA of £226,000.

Kamran added: “Despite the ongoing uncertainty we are pleased with solid year-on-year results.

“We were initially worried about the impact of COVID on the business, but our annual financial performance shows the strength of the services we offer.”

Green Cloud Hosting currently helps more than 500 SMEs and public sector organisations run their businesses more flexibly, efficiently and securely via a full range of cloud computing services including business email, cloud servers, desktop access from anywhere, online back-up solutions and much more.

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