North West business briefs: First Bus; MGISS; Secure Trust Bank; Thales in the UK; Matalan; Stockroom

Paul Townley (left) with operations manager, Mike McGowan

Work is under way to enhance Rochdale bus depot which will be operated by First Bus.

The bus company is preparing to take responsibility for running Rochdale services in the Bee Network from Sunday March 24, and has begun significant improvements to the former Transdev site on Corporation Street. Some £750,000 is being invested in the depot with a focus on enhanced engineering facilities, including a new double height workshop bay for vehicle repair and maintenance. The yard area will also be improved to provide better space for operations.

General manager, Paul Townley, said: “Our team of drivers, engineers and supervisors is all in place together with an experienced management team and we will be ready to go on the 24 March.”

The Rochdale workforce includes around 95 drivers that will transfer to First Bus from Transdev.

Paul added: “We will soon be welcoming many new colleagues who will add valuable knowledge. This new depot is creating high skilled, well paid jobs locally and regionally and as we continue to invest in the Rochdale area, First Bus is determined to help build the economy and link key communities as we support the latest phase of the Bee Network.”

When the depot joins the Bee Network, First Bus will operate more than 30 routes in the Rochdale and Bury area together with six school services using a fleet of more than 65 buses and capacity to expand this to 90 vehicles.


Geospatial technology firm, MGISS, is enhancing its provision for major utilities companies, developing a solution to support asset owners, operators and contractors to manage risks and minimise disruptions to gas and water supply.

As part of a major project, match-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Liverpool-based firm is scaling up its support for clients in the utilities sector through the development of an eye-in-the-sky solution, utilising satellite data to identify and locate development risks in proximity to critical utility assets.

MGISS’s geospatial software platform enables its customers, which include Northumbrian Water Group, Severn Trent Water and Galliford Try, to capture the location of buried assets, such as pipes and cables, through transforming GIS data into real time augmented reality displays.

The firm, which was founded by Mike Darracott in 2014, has also supported the likes of the National Trust and South West Peatland Partnership to map heritage sites and monitor large scale environmental projects, ensuring the capture of accurate site data. Along with securing a €500,000 award from the ESA in 2023 to carry out the two-year project, last month MGISS received a further £600,000 in funding from NPIF-Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF).

Managing director, Mike Darracott, said: “Our systems help our clients to make the most of the available data, enabling a proactive approach to identifying and tackling hazards. This new platform will be the most integrated to date and will help companies to dramatically reduce downtime, regulatory fines and, in partnership with conservation organisations, their environmental impact.”


Sean Powell

Manchester-based Secure Trust Bank Commercial Finance (STB CF), which provides asset-based lending (ABL), has completed more than £214.8m-worth of facilities across 10 deals in 2023.

As the market slowed in the first six months of 2023, many lenders experienced a protracted deal completion process. Despite this, deal activity was significantly higher in the second half of the year, with the STB CF team completing eight deals. Notably, the team increased its total deal value in 2023, rising by 36.8% from £157m in 2022.

Collaboration with private equity also remained a priority for the STB CF team in 2023. Of the deals completed, seven involved the team providing a facility alongside private equity to support the acquisition of a business.

Deals completed in 2023 include STB CF’s largest deal to date, providing a multimillion-pound facility to support private equity investor Chiltern Capital’s acquisition of Batt Cables, one of Europe’s leading distributors of electrical cables. The firm also recently provided facilities to high street staples, including No Ordinary Designer Label Limited (NODL), the retail operator of Ted Baker, and Ann Summers.

Sean Powell, national sales director at Secure Trust Bank Commercial Finance, said: “This has been another strong year for the Secure Trust Bank Commercial Finance team and I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to achieve. Despite facing a slower start to the year and operating in a difficult economic environment where many businesses struggled, we’ve made strong progress over the last few months in supporting leading businesses across the UK.”


Returner programme

Global technology company Thales in the UK, has teamed up with STEM Returners for a second time to continue their drive to help engineers return to work after a career break.

Thales in the UK, which develops high-tech solutions, services and products for the security, defence and security, aerospace, space, and transport sectors, will provide a STEM Returners programme at its site in Cheadle, after a successful pilot in 2022. There will be 10 roles available including Systems Engineer, Software Engineer and Hardware Engineer.

Annual research from STEM Returners (The STEM Returners Index) shows the challenges people face when trying to return to work following a career break, with recruitment bias shown to be the main barrier to entry. It also shows women trying to return to industry are more likely to experience recruitment bias than men.

STEM Returners’ programmes aim to eliminate these barriers by giving candidates real work experience and mentoring during their placement, as well as supporting them to seamlessly adjust to life back in work. Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said: “There is a misconception that a career break leads to a deterioration of skills but that could not be further from the truth. Only by working together will we make vital changes in recruitment practices, to help those who are finding it challenging to return to the sector.”

Andrew Malone, Engineering Director at Thales in the UK, said: “As our business continues to grow, the STEM Returners programme is a key provider to our engineering growth with a previously hidden pool of talent who are experienced, educated, skilled and bring a level of diversity to further enhance our engineering capability. We would love for the STEM returners to be part of our team, as we deliver our highly complex systems, products and services to our clients, building a future we can all trust.”


Matalan, the Knowsley-based fashion and homeware omnichannel value retailer, has launched a Generative AI (GenAI) tool to create its product descriptions and deliver a seamless online experience for customers.

It has partnered with global digital transformation consultancy Kin + Carta to launch the new GenAI and Large Language Model (LLM) tool, which creates detailed product descriptions for items listed on its website. It marks the first time a UK retailer has used AI in this way and forms an important part of Matalan’s digital transformation journey.

The tool will be implemented across all departments, including clothing and homeware. As well as making shopping online with Matalan easier, it is expected to deliver a four times increase in productivity. Matalan’s team of copywriters will continue to oversee descriptions, ensuring a crucial human touch while improving search engine optimisation, conversion rates and efficiency.

Enhancing production descriptions on is the first of many initiatives the business has planned to improve its e-commerce offer, as part of its wider omnichannel strategy to make shopping online as easy, seamless and enjoyable for customers as shopping instore.

Ali Jones, Chief Customer and Omnichannel Officer at Matalan, said: “As the UK’s first retailer to be leveraging Generative AI in this way, this is a hugely exciting moment for Matalan. Not only does it demonstrate innovation into new and so far unexplored areas, but it shows our commitment to putting our customers and the shopping experience first – whether they’re shopping on our website or through the Matalan app. This all ladders up to our ambitious business transformation, so it’s a proud moment to be announcing this industry-first, today.”


Cllr Frankie Singleton

Stockport is pioneering an innovative plan to increase footfall and inspire a love of learning and creativity in children and adults, as town centres across the UK struggle to recover from the decline of high street shopping and the huge economic shock of Covid-19.

The plans for Stockroom were first approved in 2021. The project is being funded following a successful bid from Stockport Council for £14.5m of government ‘Future High Streets Fund’ money as the project will transform 135,000 sq ft of vacant retail units in the heart of Merseyway shopping centre. Work is already well under way to bring creativity, discovery and inspiration to the high street in Stockport and the new updated hoardings around the building site are creating a buzz about what is to come.

Stockroom will be an accessible, family-friendly space in the middle of the town, designed to be welcoming for everyone. There will be room to play, to take part and to discover something new. It will feature a library service and children’s library, a high quality cafe and bistro, and access to Stockport’s heritage and archives collection. Visitors will also have access to two large multi-use studio spaces and enhanced amenities for people with a disability, direct access to more than 800 car parking spaces that include designated disabled and family spaces, as well as a multifaith room.

As the construction work is under way the focus is now on Stockroom Socials, a series of events taking place throughout the summer to provide an opportunity for the public to participate in fun activity, find out more and help shape and influence the Stockroom programme.

Cllr Frankie Singleton, Cabinet Member for Communities, Culture & Sport at Stockport Council, said: “Things are really beginning to take shape. Everyone should get involved with Stockroom Socials to have the chance to shape the future of the exciting new venue.”