Colors: Purple Color

Birmingham faces the biggest challenges to level up in the UK due to the economic impact of Covid-19, according to Centre for Cities’ annual study of the UK’s major urban areas –Cities Outlook 2021. Over 100,000 people in Birmingham now need to find secure, well-paid jobs to level up – compared to 43,000 last March. This means its claimant count rate now needs to decrease by 6.7 percentage points to bring Birmingham in line with the pre Covid-19 national average.

In addition to hitting Birmingham and the rest of the North and Midlands badly, Covid-19 has also hit many previously prosperous places in the South disproportionately hard. The Government must act fast to prevent a levelling down of these places that the whole UK depends on to create jobs and fund public services. London’s, Crawley’s and Slough’s futures are among the southern places of concern due Covid-19’s potential long-term impact.

The Chancellor should announce how he will deal with Covid-19’s short-term damage to cities and large towns. The plans should include:

• Making permanent the £20 rise in Universal Credit.
• Supporting jobless people to find new good jobs.
• Consider the merits of a renewed Eat Out to Help Out scheme for hospitality and non-online retailers once it is safe.

Acting to prevent further economic damage by Covid-19 is not the same as levelling up. Once the health crisis ends, the Government will need to spend additional money on further measures to level up, including:

• Further education to train jobless people for good roles in emerging industries.
• Making city centres better places for high-skilled businesses to locate.
• Improvements to transport infrastructure in city-regions.

Centre for Cities Chief Executive Andrew Carter said: “Covid-19 has made the Government’s pledge to level up Birmingham much harder. It was promised on the assumption that places in the South would remain prosperous but Covid-19 has shaken this assumption.

“Levelling up Birmingham and stopping the South’s levelling down will not be cheap and will require more than short-term handouts. Government support and investment for new businesses in emerging industries will be essential, as will spending on further education to train people to do the good-quality jobs created.”

 

Eligible City of Wolverhampton businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors can now apply for an additional one-off national lockdown grant of up to £9,000. The application process is now also open to the latest Local Restrictions Support Grants (Closed), which cover the period Wolverhampton was under Tier 4 restrictions (December 31 to January 4) and the current national lockdown. It relates to businesses that are ratepayers and are required to close under national or local Covid-19 restrictions.

For anyone who has already made a recent application for a business grant then you can use this information and evidence as the basis for any subsequent application. A further discretionary Additional Restrictions Grant to support other businesses impacted by the national lockdown is expected to be confirmed once government funding arrives. These grants are in addition to previous Local Restrictions Support Grants and the Additional Restrictions Grant established during the pandemic, which continue to receive applications.

Councillor Stephen Simkins, Cabinet Member for City Economy, said: “I am urging Wolverhampton businesses to check what they are eligible for by visiting the website and apply for these critical grants. As a council, we have ensured thousands of eligible businesses have had quick access to vital funding to help them.

“We appreciate this is an extremely difficult time for businesses and assure you that these payments are our priority. We will ensure these new grants get allocated swiftly and that no business is left behind as our city looks to recover from the financial impact of Covid-19.”

With extremely high levels of demands experienced, businesses are urged to remain patient. All of the grants are subject to State Aid rules and are treated as taxable income.

Go Carz, the biggest private hire taxi operator across Shropshire and the West Midlands, is offering free taxi rides to help roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to the first wave of elderly and vulnerable patients of Telford. Formed in 2017, Teldoc is Shropshire’s first super practice, with a patient population of over 48,000. In accordance with national guidance, Teldoc have commenced vaccination of the elderly and vulnerable in the local community.

Go Carz are working with participating Teldoc practices to offer transport only to those eligible persons who have been invited to make a vaccination appointment if they have no other means of transport. These free rides provide a COVID-safe taxi journey to the vaccination centre only, and the patient has the option to book a safe journey home too. Eligible individuals who have been invited to make an appointment with the vaccination centre, will be able to claim their free journey using a dedicated account and provided by the Teldoc telephone operator. Patients will then be able to phone Go Carz dispatch centre to book their free ride using this information.

The gesture of goodwill will benefit the elderly and vulnerable within the local community who, without Go Carz and Teldoc’s help, would have had their vaccination delayed.

Graham Hoof, Regional Director of Go Carz, said: “Many of the elderly and vulnerable may feel safer in a private hire vehicle rather than public transport. Safely transporting them to ensure they can get their vaccination is a vital step that we can assist with to help our local community beat COVID.”

Go Carz was also one of the first transport companies to introduce additional health and hygiene measures in 2020 to make journeys as safe as possible for all passengers and driver-partners. The measures, designed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, include specialist cleaning regimes, in-vehicle protective screens, the wearing of face coverings and passengers sitting in the rear of the vehicle.

One-off grants of £10,000 will be paid to 421 hospitality and leisure businesses across Birmingham which have previously missed out on Government support or require emergency intervention to protect jobs. City Councillors have agreed to use funds from the £22.8 million Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) to help businesses who were ineligible to claim any support between the March 2020 lockdown and January 2021.

The grants will be paid to eligible businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000 who have previously not been eligible for Government grant funds or who require emergency support to protect jobs or stay afloat. Birmingham City Council’s Deputy Leader, Councillor Brigid Jones, said: “The ARG fund has been provided to councils by the Government to enable local authorities to use their discretion to support businesses which do not automatically qualify for other grant support schemes. These sectors, and the associated industries, are responsible for providing tens of thousands of jobs across Birmingham and the wider regions but have yet to receive a single penny of support since the first lockdown in March as they did not meet the criteria set out by Government

“It’s important we do everything we can to protect these businesses and the livelihoods associated with them. This emergency intervention will provide a much-needed lifeline to preserve the future of another 421 businesses, the jobs associated with them and the wider economy.” Council officers will identify the businesses which will be eligible for the grant and will contact them directly to notify them and request the necessary information required to process payments by 22 January 2021.

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce CEO, Paul Faulkner, said: “At the end of last year, we surveyed over 380 local businesses on where they believed that they will be in six months’ time without further Government support; one in 20 believed they would be closed or in administration. We believe that the latest developments regarding the full national lockdown have made the situation even more pressing for the most impacted. We welcome this action from Birmingham City Council to support these businesses that were largely excluded from the small business and retail, leisure and hospitality sector grants made available last year.

“The hospitality and leisure sector plays such a critical role in our city on both employment and its attractiveness as a great place to live, work and do business. For many, ‘closed’ businesses with a high rateable value, the current national Government grants do not come close to covering their rent, costs of furloughed staff and other key overheads. The scale of the issue and challenges facing the business community is far bigger than the resources currently available at a local level. There are many thousands of businesses in other sectors also facing an uncertain future due to this dramatic scale of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

“We will continue to call on the Government to back our businesses with a significant, coordinated package of support on additional grants, reliefs, deferments to help our communities survive and in time, thrive. We will also continue to work together with Birmingham City Council and key partners on finding local support and solutions wherever possible.”

Last week the Government announced England would be placed in its third national lockdown and extended the provision of existing grant schemes including:

·         Local Restrictions Support Grant (Open)

·         Local Restrictions Support Grant (Closed)

·         Local Restrictions Support Grant (Sector)

·         Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG)

Circa. 100 staff from Birmingham City Council are working to process 12,200 applications from businesses who have been forced to close or remain in partial operation due to previous tier restrictions, with more than 60,000 funding opportunities currently being assessed on behalf of businesses. Officers have been redeployed from teams across the council to cross reference each application against various eligibility criteria for each of the different grants, before being able to process payment claims.

Birmingham City Council’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Brigid Jones, said: “We know how desperate businesses are to receive this money and we are doing everything we can to process the grants as fast as possible. However, it’s a complex process subject to very high demand which needs careful consideration to ensure nobody misses out. Since November, with the exception of tier one, Birmingham has been placed in all of the different tier levels so we are having to crosscheck each individual application against the eligibility criteria for numerous grants, many of which have variables depending upon the tier we were in at the time, the nature of the business and impact on its finances.

“With the number of applications and varying eligibility criteria for grants, our officers will have to review over 60,000 scenarios where businesses could be entitled to funds. As a council we have not been provided with additional funding or support to help process these grants so have had to redeploy staff away from their day jobs wherever possible. We now have approximately 100 officers working to get this money out to businesses as quickly – and as accurately – as possible and want to reassure businesses we are doing everything we can.”

Businesses have been asked to submit a single application which is being used to assess eligibility for each grant, with payments for all grants being paid simultaneously. Those who have previously applied will have additional payments automatically processed and do not need to resubmit an application.

Flat owners applying to a fund to help pay to remove flammable building cladding will be told not to talk to the press without government approval. A draft agreement, uncovered by the Sunday Times, says that even where there is "overwhelming public interest" in speaking to journalists, the government must be told first. The government said the wording was "standard".

It set up a £1.6bn fund last year to repair the most dangerous buildings. But it warned that the fund might not cover all the costs of removing the cladding. Some types of the covering, often added to newer blocks of flats, have been proven to be a fire hazard.

After the 2017 Grenfell fire, the government pledged that safe alternatives to dangerous cladding would be provided on all buildings in England taller than 18m. It set up the £1.6bn fund to help foot the costs.

The agreement, between the building owner or leaseholder and the government, says: "The Applicant shall not make any communication to the press or any journalist or broadcaster regarding the Project or the Agreement (or the performance of it by any Party) without the prior written approval of Homes England and [the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government" and its press offices.

It says an exception can be made "where such disclosure is in the overwhelming public interest (in which case disclosure will not be made without first allowing Homes England and MHCLG to make representations on such proposed disclosure)." The UK Cladding Action Group tweeted that it was "clearly a matter of public interest" that these issues were aired in public.

"No department should be hiding behind non-disclosure agreements to stop scrutiny of their actions," the group said. Another campaign group, Manchester Cladiators, said the existence of the "gagging clause" was "shocking but not necessarily that surprising".

Spokesperson Rebecca Fairclough said residents would feel "intimidated" by it, adding: "We ask the government to remove this unfair clause immediately and focus on the priority of solving this institutional failure, which still exists and is only growing over three and a half years after the Grenfell tragedy." The government insists that the wording in the agreement, under the heading "Marketing material", is there to ensure applicants come to the government first.

"The terms set out are standard in commercial agreements and are not specific to this fund - to suggest otherwise is misleading and inaccurate," the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said in a statement. "We want a constructive working relationship with building owners who apply to the fund and applicants are asked to work with the department on public communications relating to the project."

Kinaxia Logistics has recruited a business development manager for the Midlands region to help drive further expansion for the group. Stuart Arms has joined Kinaxia to bring new opportunities for the group’s operations across the region which comprise Panic Transport in Clifton upon Dunsmore, AKW Global Logistics Birmingham and Maidens in Telford.

Stuart previously spent five years at Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, starting as a graduate junior account manager and progressing to become a key account manager. His role at Kinaxia involves helping to win new business for the group’s key product portfolio which includes co-packing, general haulage, warehousing, line haul and e-fulfilment, and to help identify growth opportunities with existing clients.

Kinaxia is a national group comprising 13 freight and logistics businesses across the UK with over 1,600 staff and more than 800 vehicles. The group, which has remained operational throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, has two million sq ft of warehouse facilities nationwide, offering contract packing, e-fulfilment, returns management and storage services. It has seen significant and continued growth over recent years, with annual revenues now approaching £200m.

Stuart said: “I’m thrilled to join Kinaxia at a time when the company is making real strides. I look forward to playing my part as we continue to grow and evolve, and hope to make a real difference.” Kinaxia was recently recognised as one of Britain’s leading mid-market private companies with its inclusion in the 16th annual Sunday Times PwC Top Track 250 league table, based on sales.

Group sales and marketing director Vanessa Hope said: “I’m delighted to welcome Stuart to the company in a newly-created role. He joins Kinaxia at a very exciting stage of our journey as we look to win new clients in the Midlands and growth opportunities within our existing client base.”

It has been announced that the chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC), Paul Faulkner, is leaving his position and will take up a new role as chief of staff and operations within the group of businesses owned by the Richardson family.  

GBCC chair David Waller wished Mr Faulkner “every success” in his new career and added: “I am sure that you will join me in giving Paul our heartfelt thanks for all of the work and leadership he has given to the Chamber over the past six years.

“I am naturally very saddened that he has decided to leave our family but I thoroughly understand his reasons. Paul will remain as CEO of the Chamber for the coming months and I have asked him to work closely with me to help to ensure a smooth and effective transition with his successor.”

Mr Faulkner (pictured), who is a former chief executive of Aston Villa FC and Nottingham Forest, recently led the successful sale of Chamber of Commerce House to Mercia Real Estate for £4.75 million in a move that secures the Chamber’s long-term future. He said: “I’m very sad to be leaving the brilliant team at the Chamber, although equally excited by this next chapter in my own career. As a business support organisation the Chamber is absolutely second to none, and I am proud to have led its development since June, 2015, working alongside a host of fantastic individuals.

“The Chamber has led the way in supporting our members through some challenging times recently, not the least of which are the struggles all businesses are experiencing in the Covid-19 crisis. We have influenced government and council policies to the benefit of all businesses and supported them as we went through the agonising process of leaving the European Union.

“Throughout, we have managed to maintain membership levels, all supported by a tremendous team at the Chamber. This really is testament to the expertise and enthusiasm of a diverse group of people dedicated to promoting and protecting the cause of business locally, nationally and globally.

“And in doing so, the Chamber has in turn received tremendous support from our members, who have played their part in helping us to formulate these policies as well as enthusiastically engaging in the huge programme of Chamber events and activities that have taken place despite all the Covid-19 restrictions.”

The Richardson family business was founded by Roy Richardson and his late brother Don more than 70 years ago in Oldbury. The family now operate international real estate and private equity businesses, with these having being successfully run for the past 20 years by brothers Martyn, Lee and Carl Richardson, who said: “We are always looking to work with excellent people to further expand our family interests, Paul more than fits that bill. We are very pleased to welcome him on board as part of the senior team.”

Mr Faulkner added:  “I’m delighted and humbled to have the opportunity to take up this new position with the Richardson family business. While the role will be multi-faceted, I’m especially excited to use my knowledge, understanding and contacts within the regional business community to help identify locally based businesses that the Richardson’s family business may be able to partner with in order to help them develop, grow and ultimately fulfil their full potential. 

“I’ve long championed and believed that the West Midland’s business community contains some of the most entrepreneurial and innovative businesses in the world, and this will be an exciting opportunity to explore that further. The reputation of the Richardson family in the business community is second to none.  The evolution of their business interests from a West Midlands base established over 70 years ago into a leader in real estate and growth capital with a portfolio that is embedded all over the world is truly inspirational. I am looking forward to playing my part in an exciting new chapter for the business.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Chamber.  It’s a wonderful organisation that plays a critical role in supporting businesses and the regional economy, and I am pleased the Richardson family will continue to support the Chamber in a variety of ways going forward.”

Since Mr Faulkner took up his appointment, the Chamber has seen significant growth in membership – now representing nearly 3,500 regional businesses – and strengthened its position as the leading independent support and voice for business in the area. Over the past six years many issues have been taken up successfully by the Chamber, the most recent during the Covid-19 pandemic when campaigns like “Keep Business Moving” and the “Mind the Gap” report contributed to significant changes in government policy.

There has also been a widespread programme to help businesses, especially exporters, understand and cope with the changes brought about by Brexit over the past five years. In this new role, Mr Faulkner will lead on all operational matters for the Richardson organisation across the Midlands, as it seeks out new investment opportunities in dynamic and ambitious businesses.

The appointment underscores the ongoing commitment of the Richardson family to the West Midlands, at a time when it is also continuing to develop its business portfolio across the world. Mr Faulkner oversaw the launch of the Greater Birmingham Commonwealth Chamber in 2017 as the region geared up to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022. In 2018 the Chamber’s growth and development was recognised when it was awarded the British Chambers Award for Excellence in Membership Services.

A history graduate from Cambridge University, Mr Faulkner began his career at MBNA Bank, completing the Bank’s Graduate Management Scheme and working in a variety of roles across the organisation in both the UK and the US. Following a period working as a consultant for Michael Page, he returned to the US in 2005 working for Brooklyn NY Holdings, a private family office of the Lerner family. In 2006 he was an integral part of Randy Lerner’s purchase of Aston Villa, and relocated to Birmingham to work at the club, initially as COO and then as CEO from 2010 to 2014.

Paul is a Trustee of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital Charity, Cure Leukaemia and the City of Birmingham Rockets Basketball club.  He is also Chairman of Sport Birmingham, and vice-chair of performance Birmingham Limited (PBL) which operates the Town Hall and Symphony Hall in the city, and a Board member of Culture Central. He lives in Sutton Coldfield and is married with two young sons.

Business owners from across the Black Country and Shropshire are being offered free expert support to help them get through the latest lockdown. Multi-award-winning business coach, Andy Hemming, is offering free sessions to SME owners in an attempt to help boost the region’s business community. 

Mr Hemming, who runs ActionCOACH Black Country, says despite the lockdown, there’s still many things people could be doing to secure the future of their businesses - and it’s vital people act sooner rather than later. 

“It’s true that some sectors have been hit harder by the pandemic and will be suffering again because of the latest lockdown,” said Mr Hemming. “There are still things that business owners can do, but it can be hard for them to see the big picture while they’re in the middle of it. The situation we’re currently in means everything gets amplified – if you’re a procrastinator you will procrastinate more, if you’ve already got dramas in the business they will be magnified. Those who act now have a greater chance of coming through it stronger. 

“We’re able to work with businesses by bringing objectivity to the table and stripping the emotion out of the decision-making processes, and that’s something business owners often aren’t able to do.” 

Mr Hemming, who has been consistently placed in the top 10 Action Coaches in the world since 2014, says he speaks from a position of experience - which is why he’s keen to help others avoid making the same business mistakes.

“I’ve been there in the recession of 2008, I lost my head and my business nearly went bust. I know what it’s like to panic and not know what to do. I understand what it’s like to be in pain and watching money draining out of the bank account, not knowing what to do about it.” Mr Hemming’s fellow business coach, Lewis Hayden, said he had also been in a similar position before receiving help from Andy.

Mr Hayden said: “I first met Andy at a really tough time for our family business back in 2012.

“Following a difficult period of trading we were approaching the point where dissolving the company was looking like the only option. Thanks to Andy’s help and support we were able to turn it around, with the business now having a healthy turnover of £3m and employing 22 people.” Mr Hemming said this was why he and Lewis were both passionate about helping as many business owners as possible. I’m passionate about supporting SMEs because they are the backbone of the economy. They are often very good at what they do but don’t know how to run a business. I want to give my knowledge away to strengthen that local SME community.” 

ActionCOACH Black Country has a proven track record of helping people to grow their businesses, improving efficiency and  increasing profitability and turnover through business coaching. 

“Last year, as a business, we managed to achieve double-digit growth, despite the pandemic. We kept almost all of our clients and added new ones, and all of them increased their profit and turnover. I think that speaks volumes. Opportunities are still out there and I’d urge anyone who’s struggling to pick up the phone to see how we can help,” added Mr Hemming. 

Warwickshire Police’s plan to replace more than 80 police staff with officers will undermine the service provided to the public and isn’t value for money, says UNISON.  The union’s West Midlands regional organiser Charlie Sarell and branch secretary Paul Edwards recently met with Chief Constable Martin Jelley to discuss alternatives to the redundancies. 

However, few of the union's suggestions have been adopted, says UNISON, which is continuing working with the force to avoid the job losses. The police staff the force plans to replace have more than 50 years’ combined experience in dealing with sensitive cases, such as those involving domestic violence. Many are qualified to degree level in relevant subjects such as criminology and youth justice, according to UNISON.  

The union says Warwickshire Police’s plan will not mean more police out patrolling the streets. Instead, these additional officers* will be doing the same jobs previously carried out by police staff. UNISON is urging local MPs and Warwickshire police and crime commissioner Philip Seccombe to back its call for the force to receive extra funding.  

UNISON West Midlands regional organiser Charlie Sarell said: “These proposed redundancies will damage the service provided to the public. The wealth of experience these police staff bring to their jobs will be lost. The move also won’t result in more officers out on the streets of Warwickshire.  

“UNISON will continue to campaign on behalf of police staff and the public to stop these redundancies going ahead.”  

Average house prices in Liverpool are up 15.1% since the start of the year, making it the UK’s top property hotspot in 2020, according to Land Registry data analysed by Movewise, the multi-agent property seller. Movewise.co.uk analysed the latest Land Registry house price data, published this week, to identify the UK’s house price winners and losers of 2020, comparing average prices at the start of the year to October 2020, across more than 100 major UK towns and cities.

Property prices in Liverpool have risen by almost £20,000 in 2020 to October, from £130,224 to £149,938. Only two other major UK towns have seen double digit house price growth this year - Slough (11.8%) and Worcester (10.0%). The impact of lockdown and the desire for outside space, plus a growing trend towards working from home, has seen an exodus from London. This is reflected in strong house price growth in major towns more than an hour away from the capital, that offer a better quality of life as well as easy access to London when needed.

Cheltenham, Winchester and Bath fall into this category, and have all benefited from buyers re-evaluating what they want from a home. Average house prices in these areas have all increased more than 8% in 2020. In the UK’s biggest cities, house price growth has been more subdued, with property prices up 2.5% in London and Birmingham, and 3% in Manchester, in 2020 to October. This is just below average house price growth for the whole of the UK, with prices increasing from £251,711 to £262,175 or 4.2% over the same period.

Surprisingly, only four major towns - Hartlepool, Aberdeen, Luton and Basingstoke - have experienced negative price growth in 2020, with Hartlepool rooted at the bottom, as property prices fell 6.5% during the year to October. In Scotland, the biggest loser is Aberdeen where house prices are down almost £7,000 or 4.7% in 2020 to October. In comparison, prices are up 7.9% in Glasgow and 6.9% in Dundee. In Wales, the biggest winner is Newport where average house prices are up almost £15,000 or 8.1% in 2020 to October. House prices are up just 1.8% in Swansea.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that everyone in England must stay at home except for permitted reasons during a new coronavirus lockdown expected to last until mid-February. All schools and colleges will close to most pupils and switch to remote learning from today.

Mr Johnson urged people to follow the rules immediately amid surging cases and patient numbers. He said those in the top four priority groups would receive a first vaccine dose by the middle of next month.

Speaking from Downing Street, Mr Johnson said all the new measures would last until at least the middle of February. He said the weeks ahead would be the "hardest yet" as a new more infectious variant of the virus spreads across the UK.

The Prime Minister added that he believed the country was entering "the last phase of the struggle". And he reiterated the slogan used earlier in the pandemic, urging people to "stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives".

Scotland earlier issued a stay-at-home order and joined Wales in closing classrooms for most pupils. Northern Ireland's Stormont Executive is also meeting to discuss possible new measures. The UK has recorded more than 50,000 new confirmed Covid cases for the seventh day in a row.

A further 58,784 cases and an additional 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive test result were reported, though deaths in Scotland were not recorded. Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be contacted by letter and should now shield once more, Mr Johnson said.

Support and childcare bubbles will continue under the new measures - and people can meet one person from another household for outdoor exercise. Communal worship and life events like funerals and weddings can continue, subject to limits on attendance.

While the PM said end-of-year exams would not take place as normal in the summer, he said alternative arrangements would be announced separately. The government has published a 22-page document outlining the new rules in detail.

The House of Commons has been recalled to allow MPs to vote on the new restrictions. The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that his MPs would "support the package of measures", saying "we've all got to pull together now to make this work".

The Government’s Help to Buy scheme, designed to help first-time buyers on to the property ladder, is changing soon, offering fresh opportunities to would-be home buyers in Birmingham, says Persimmon Homes.

Introduced in 2013, Help to Buy enabled purchasers to put down just a 5% deposit on a newly-built home, with up to 20% of the full cost of the home being funded by a shared equity loan, which is interest-free for the first five years.

Originally aimed at both first-time buyers and existing homeowners, the new equity loan scheme will be limited to those new to the housing market from April 2021.

Neil Williams, managing direct of Persimmon Homes Central, said: “Starting on 1 April next year, the new Help to Buy programme lets eligible first-time buyers in this area borrow up to 20% of the cost of a new Persimmon home from the Government. This applies to new homes up to £255,600 in value on many of our developments.

“At Persimmon we are registered for the new scheme and believe it can bring home ownership within the reach of thousands who may otherwise have struggled, especially after the unique circumstances we’ve all faced over the past year.

“Across the UK, Help to Buy has already helped more than 270,000 into home ownership, of which four-in-five are first-time buyers. The revised scheme aims to build further on this success.”

 

How Help to Buy works:

·         You pay a deposit of 5% of the purchase price of your new home when contracts are exchanged

·         You take out a repayment mortgage of at least 25% of the purchase price of your new home

·         You are not charged interest on the loan for the first five years

·         Interest fees start at 1.75% and rise each year in April by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) plus 2%

·         You pay a monthly management fee of £1 for the life of the equity loan

·         The equity loan is secured against your property in the same way as a repayment mortgage. You must repay the equity loan when you sell the home, pay off your repayment mortgage or reach the end of your equity loan term. But, you can repay all or part of the equity loan any time before then

·         Buyers can apply for a Help to Buy: Equity Loan from 16 December 2020

  

Persimmon Homes operates new build homes developments at more than 380 sites across England, Scotland and Wales. The company is currently rated four stars in the Home Builders Federation (HBF) rating system.

To poorly paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the office are greatly exaggerated but at the end of 2020 when ‘Zoom’ and ‘remote’ appear in the list of words of the year, there are few who think everyone will return to working exactly as we all did twelve months ago.

Colmore Business Improvement District (Colmore BID) is leading a unique study on The Future Business District to inform its response to long term recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and to offer policy directions on best practice for this and other central business districts in the UK.

The Study will have a strong emphasis on place, not just on the future of office working, but where workplaces co-locate and the important linkages with recovery of the High Street, city living, and the future of our cultural institutions, as well as the transport, air quality and climate challenges cities face.

Colmore BID is curating the study in partnership with Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Combined Authority. The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) and neighbouring city centre BIDs – Westside, Retail, Jewellery Quarter and Southside – are also supporting the Study. City-REDI at the University of Birmingham has been appointed as lead Research Partner. It will work alongside the Office of Data Analytics at the West Midlands Combined Authority to undertake the major research programme. Support will also come from UK Research and Innovation and the Centre for Cities think tank.

The Study will adopt a commission style approach with an independent Advisory Panel being established to provide expert guidance to Colmore BID and the project team. Colmore BID director Mike Best, Senior Director at national planning consultancy Turley, developed the Study with Kevin Johnson of Birmingham-based strategic communications firm Urban Communications. Mike will chair its Working Group overseeing the Study whilst Kevin will serve as Project Director. The project will review data and trends along with existing literature and commentary as well as undertaking primary research through interviews, surveys, workshops and a Call for Evidence, ensuring the Study engages a wide audience and produces an independent, evidence-based report.

Mike Best, director at Colmore BID, commented: “The central business district is facing a potential existential crisis because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The future for offices and city centres has been the subject of lively debate since the first lockdown in March 2020. Much has focussed on remote working and the extent to which this may be a long-term behavioural shift.

“Less well debated is the future of business districts themselves – the places where offices locate together with the supporting infrastructure of business networking, conferencing, hotels, retail, hospitality and cultural attractions and in close proximity to town halls and the corridors of power.

“These areas of our major city centres should be considered as having a value beyond their rents or supplying customers to coffee shops and after work bars. They are an ecosystem of large corporates, SMEs and small independent businesses that have historically thrived by each other. The questions now are what is the future role of business districts and how can we ensure they remain successful as places to connect people and businesses?”

The Study will set out to answer two key questions:

 

·         What is the likely long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on city centre business districts?

·         How can we ensure they remain successful as places to attract businesses and people and contribute to vibrant city centres?

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Business improvement districts have been a key part of the success of town and city centres in the West Midlands, and they must continue to be so as we move out of the pandemic and look to recovery economically. This study is a great way to work out what this future may look like for BIDs, and I am pleased the WMCA could lend its hand to the study through our Office of Data Analytics.”

Councillor Brigid Jones, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council said: “The repercussions of the global pandemic and the way in which businesses have had to adapt are unlike anything we have experienced in modern history. We fully support the work being undertaken by Colmore BID to ascertain the long-term impact of Covid on our city centres and what steps need to be taken to protect and preserve their future.”

Professor Simon Collinson, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Regional Engagement and the Director of City-REDI / WM REDI, University of Birmingham, commented: “As we look ahead to recovery, from an unprecedented series of shocks to our economy, society and communities, we need a combined effort to rebuild the regional economic growth momentum. So many businesses, jobs and households depend on a thriving central business district and these have been hit hardest by this year’s events.

“This is why we are so pleased at City-REDI to be appointed as lead Research Partner in this critical project to understand the impacts on our city centres and work with other stakeholders to help rebuild these economic engines. City-REDI is part of a great civic institution which has stepped up its efforts across many fronts to support the city-region in difficult times.“The University of Birmingham is also at the forefront of healthcare innovations which are essential to our current recovery and will improve our resilience in the face of future pandemics.”

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said: “City centres are just 0.1 per cent of the UK’s land but are central both to urban life and the national economy. They are where we come together to work, shop and play but the pandemic has put paid to much of that.

“This year will be make or break for their future with implications for how we live and do business in the longer term, so we are delighted to be supporting Colmore BID on the future of central business districts.”

A dedicated website for the Study is launched in this month at www.futurebusinessdistrict.co.uk.

It will contain details of how people can engage with the Study, including how to respond to a Call for Evidence.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge MPs to "open a new chapter in our national story" by backing his post-Brexit trade deal with the EU in a Commons vote today. Parliament is being recalled to put the deal into law, a day before the UK severs ties with the European Union.

In a speech to MPs, the prime minister will say the deal - agreed on Christmas Eve - allows the UK to take "control of our laws and our national destiny".

But he will also stress the UK intends to be the EU's "best friend and ally".

The deal hammered out with Brussels over nine tortuous months sets out a new business and security relationship between the UK and its biggest trading partner. The EU (future relationship) Bill - which puts it into UK law - is expected to receive the backing of Parliament, thanks to Mr Johnson's large Commons majority and the support of the opposition Labour Party.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer - who campaigned against Brexit - has said the "thin" agreement does not do enough to protect jobs, the environment and workers' rights. But - despite objections from leading members of his own party - he will order his MPs to vote for it, as the only alternative at this stage would be a no-deal exit, which he argues would be even more damaging to the UK economy. All other opposition parties, including the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and all Northern Ireland parties that take seats at Westminster, have indicated they will be voting against the deal. But the prime minister received a boost from a powerful group of backbench Tory Brexiteers and serial rebels, who have indicated they will back the deal.

The European Research Group (ERG) said it had examined the text in detail and concluded that it "preserves the UK's sovereignty as a matter of law". In a speech opening five hours of Commons debate, Mr Johnson is expected to say: "The central purpose of this bill is to accomplish something which the British people always knew in their hearts could be done, but which we were told was impossible - namely that we could trade and cooperate with our European neighbours on the closest terms of friendship and goodwill, whilst retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny." He will claim the deal - which comes four and half years after Britain voted to leave the EU and a year after it officially left - had been reached in record time, when compared to other trade treaties.

"We have done this in less than a year, in the teeth of a pandemic, and we have pressed ahead with this task, resisting all calls for delay, precisely because creating certainty about our future provides the best chance of beating Covid and bouncing back even more strongly next year," he is expected to tell MPs. And he will stress that the UK intends to be "a friendly neighbour - the best friend and ally the EU could have - working hand-in-glove whenever our values and interests coincide while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected Parliament".

"That is the historic resolution delivered by this bill," he will add, calling it a "a new chapter in our national story" that will reassert Britain as "a liberal, outward-looking force for good".

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are due to sign the international treaty ratifying the deal this morning in Brussels. The document will then be flown across the Channel in an RAF plane for Mr Johnson to sign it in Downing Street, a No 10 spokesman said. The European Parliament has begun its scrutiny of the agreement but will not get a chance to ratify it before the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union at midnight tomorrow.

The deal has, however, been given the unanimous backing of ambassadors from the 27 nations and the member states gave their written approval. MPs are set to debate the bill for five hours, starting at 09:30 GMT, before a vote. It will then move on to the Lords, which is also expected to back it, before receiving Royal Assent. Labour has called on the government to provide help to British businesses facing upheaval in the new year, including "clear communications", an acceleration in the recruitment of customs officials, forbearance for firms coming to terms with new rules, commitment to

British supply chains and financial support for affected firms.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodd's said: "The fact that a catastrophic no-deal scenario has been avoided means that many businesses across the country are now breathing a sigh of relief. "But the government's irresponsible, eleventh-hour approach to the negotiations means there are many questions still unanswered with just days to go until the end of the transition period."

The deal comes as the UK government announced it has signed a deal that will allow British businesses to continue trading with Turkey on the same terms after Brexit. The tariff-free arrangements underpin a trading relationship which the UK government said was worth £18.6bn last year.

The UK has rolled over dozens of trade deals with countries around the world since deciding to leave the EU's trading arrangements. The vast majority of the 63 trade deals the UK has signed over the past two years have retained the same terms as before Brexit.

Almost 8 in 10 UK adults will be carrying debt into 2021, new research has revealed. And, while the average amount owed has reduced compared to the previous year, the most common reason for 2020 debt is, worryingly, ‘normal living expenses’, according to the research.

Just 22% of the nation won’t be carrying debt into 2021, according to the study by financial comparison experts money.co.uk. What’s interesting is that 2% fewer people will be carrying over debt into the new year than this time last year. That means, mortgages aside, 78% will go into the New Year with some form of personal debt - including money owed on credit cards, personal loans, car loans, bank overdrafts and payday loans.

Experts say the really concerning figure is that 35% of people’s personal debt is largely due to ‘normal’ living expenses. A further 15% say their debt is due to Christmas spending and 31% have identified that their personal debt is due to changed financial circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The study of British adults was commissioned by financial comparison experts money.co.uk in December 2020 and shows that the average British adult ended 2020 with £9,246 worth of total debt – down 33% compared to last year’s average of £13,910.

Men are taking more debt into 2021 than women – UK males have an average of £11,581 debt at the end of 2020 compared to women, who have an average debt of £7,016 which they’ll carry over into 2021. Salman Haqqi, personal finance expert at money.co.uk, said: “Our research shows that it has been a particularly difficult year for the country financially. There’s been the coronavirus pandemic, and with it, unemployment and furlough, plus the rising cost of everyday living to consider.

“Yet, despite this, the good news is that people are generally carrying less debt across into 2021 than they did the previous year. However, our study also shows that one in four people are paying off the minimum amount in repayments but less than the full amount on their credit card every month, which will be costing them.

"It's worrying to see that so many never move their debt around to take advantage of better interest rates, something that could save them hundreds of pounds a year and help them pay off their debts sooner. One of the most troubling stats is that 35% of people are using debt to pay for household essentials, showing that the cost of living just isn’t covered by their regular income.

"It's always worth going online and investigating what options are available to you, especially as the new year starts, as there may be cheaper alternatives and strong offers from lenders." One in five Brits plan on paying off their debt by consolidating the different debts they owe, up 7% compared to 2019. But 44% of people say they don’t move debts to take advantage of better interest rates.

Some £2,465 of the average debt is owed on credit cards, according to the research. Those aged 45-54 have the most credit card debt (£3,121) with those aged 16-24 having the least (£1,640). Geographically, people living in Northern Ireland have the most credit card debt (£8,323) whilst those in the south-west have the least (£1,473). But UK adults have actually reduced the amount of debt on their credit card by an average of £500 compared to the previous year, according to the money.co.uk research.

Some 15% of people say they have personal loans (down over 3% from last year), 14% have overdraft debt (down 4% from the previous year), just over 11% have car loans and just over 15% have payment plan loans for home goods or white goods. A further 7% have store cards and 6% have payday loans to repay. In terms of repaying, the average time needed to pay off debts is almost three years (2.9). However, 27% of people say it will take between one and two years to pay off their debt and 15% say they can pay it off in less than a year. Those in Wales will take the longest to repay their debut - an average of 3.3 years.

Those living in London are most likely to carry debt into the new year. According to the study, 36% of those living in the Greater London area will carry debt into 2021. But the number of people, countrywide, carrying debt across from the previous year into this year, is actually down 10% year-on-year.

Salman Haqqi added: “Nearly 20% of those we polled say they have taken out a credit card to cover the personal cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, while 12% say they have taken out more than one additional card.

“And it is clear that the debt situation is causing worry right across the country – with one in four people admitting they’re worried about their debt this year. And although this is 4% fewer people who are worried than there were at this time last year, it is clearly still a concern.” The money.co.uk research also shows that for 21% of people their debt repayments account for 11-20% of their salary.

Specialist graffiti clean-up teams have been ridding the railway of unsightly vandalism between Euston, the Midlands and the North West this Christmas. Network Rail staff in the North West and Central region spent the holiday working to improve the look and feel of the railway for passengers and those who live beside it.

It supports Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ recent commitment to remove graffiti as part of an extra £1m provided by the Government to clean vandalism hotspots. One of the jobs this Christmas involved cleaning graffitied walls and railway equipment at Digbeth in Birmingham.

Tim Shoveller, managing director for Network Rail’s North West and Central region, said: “It’s very frustrating money has to be spent undoing damage done by railway vandals.

It’s money which could be being spent making the railway better and improving passengers’ journeys.

“Graffiti makes the place look messy for neighbours and passengers. We want the railway to be a clean, welcoming environment for people who travel on it and live and work near it.  That’s why we’re declaring a war on graffiti.

“There’s a safety aspect here too. Graffiti vandals risk their lives trespassing on the railway. It’s a seriously dangerous place to be. Our advice is to always stay off the tracks.” In recent weeks residents in Camden were sent postcards to show progress Network Rail teams there have made to clear graffiti on the approach to Euston station.

Trains leave Euston every three minutes powered by overhead wires carrying 25,000 volts of electricity making it a dangerous place to be for trespassers. This also makes it difficult to remove graffiti for Network Rail’s maintenance team, who can only access the track when trains aren’t running, mostly overnight.